“The DOE really thinks politically before it thinks economically,” a Solyndra board member wrote in December to George Kaiser, an Obama fundraiser whose family funds owned a third of the company.
At another point, an investment adviser to Kaiser wrote in an e-mail: “DOE is willing to accommodate Solyndra . . . but they appear to be concerned about ‘looking bad.’ ”
The new details come from e-mails released Wednesday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, whose Republican majority has been investigating Solyndra’s collapse since February. The documents were provided in advance of Chu’s testimony, scheduled for Thursday before the committee’s investigative panel.
Committee Republicans have said that President Obama used his clean-energy initiative to steer loans to campaign donors. Solyndra’s biggest investor is Argonaut Equity, an investment firm for Kaiser’s family funds. Kaiser, a Tulsa billionaire, has said he played no part in helping Solyndra win a $535 million federal loan.
The new documents depict Solyndra and its investors as far from passive recipients of the Energy Department’s money. Instead, they show executives making demands, striking tough bargains and not shying from criticism of the agency that was fueling the company’s growth.
One new document expected to be cited at Thursday’s hearing is a December e-mail to Kaiser from Steven Mitchell, who was managing director of Argonaut and a member of Solyndra’s controlling board. Mitchell wrote that the Energy Department shot down Argonaut’s plan for the agency to rescue the company from a liquidity crisis, so “we politely moved the conversation toward” how to file for bankruptcy.
“To me it was clear the DOE folks were somewhat caught off guard that we weren’t going to bail out the company,” Mitchell wrote. A senior Energy Department staffer responded by suggesting that if Argonaut and other investors contributed an additional $75 million to keep the company afloat, they would be placed ahead of taxpayers for repayment if the company went under, the e-mail said.
DOE spokesman Damien LaVera said that Argonaut officials are entitled to their opinion but that all loan decisions were made on the merits.
A version of that deal was later put in place, and Republicans have questioned whether the agreement violated federal law. Democrats prepared to argue that the arrangement was reviewed by Energy Department lawyers and deemed appropriate.
In a February 2009 e-mail, Solyndra’s then-chief executive, Chris Gronet, listed 10 conditions under which the company would raise an additional $147 million in equity. One was that Chu visit Solyndra’s California factory and hold media interviews there, for use in the company’s fundraising efforts. Chu did visit Solyndra and help break ground for its new factory in September 2009.