“Why don’t you pursue your contacts with the WH?” Kaiser advised a Solyndra board member in October 2010.
Nonprofit law specialists said that Kaiser’s focus on Solyndra was striking, because he had no official role at the company and had no personal investment in the corporation. After amassing a fortune in the oil and banking industries, Kaiser had endowed a nonprofit corporation that bore his name, but he did not sit on its board.
The nonprofit corporation, known as the George Kaiser Family Foundation, had its own investment fund, which owned a third of Solyndra. Mitchell, a Solyndra board member, was the fund’s manager.
Despite those walls between Kaiser and Solyndra, e-mail exchanges show that Mitchell repeatedly sought Kaiser’s counsel and in one instance requested “authority” to make a major move.
Nonprofit experts stressed that once Kaiser donated his money to charity — and thereby qualified for millions of dollars in tax breaks — the money was no longer his under federal law.
Kaiser arrived in Las Vegas on the Friday night of the fundraiser, carrying a photo of himself and the president, which Obama signed for him. Over the evening, the oilman’s conversation moved from social chatter to business.
“I talked in general about the Chinese and solar but didn’t want to get too specific with him,” Kaiser told associates. “I did talk to him about the Chinese subsidy over the past nine months and the effect it was having on U.S. solar and wind manufacturers. . . . I thought that a more aggressive trade policy with the Chinese was essential. . . . [Obama] said that these issues would be addressed aggressively at the G-20.”
As for majority leader Reid, Kaiser confided in his e-mails: “Harry was mushy nice . . . Barack said privately that Harry would win by a small margin. I hope he’s right.”
Stone said last week that the dinner was only the second time Kaiser had met the president and that there was nothing wrong with Kaiser taking an interest in the foundation and its investments. While the foundation’s board respected Kaiser’s advice, its members made all the financial decisions, he said.
Today, a handful of Solyndra employees remain at its Silicon Valley factory, helping wind down operations. Of the 1,100 workers who lost their jobs, an estimated 90 percent remain unemployed, such as Sterio. She’s relying on help from relatives to make payments on her home, where she lives with her ailing husband and four grandchildren.
Solyndra has failed to attract a buyer who would keep the plant operating, so it is trying to unload its assets piecemeal to pay off its debts. The first $75 million recovered is expected to go to Kaiser’s nonprofit organization and other investors; it is unclear how much will be left for taxpayers.
Along with selling its microscopes and industrial robots, the company in November auctioned off the 30-foot-long blue banner that served as a backdrop for Obama’s factory visit.
Winning bidder Scott Logsdon, a laid-off Solyndra worker who’s been lucky enough to land a new job, snapped up the sign for $400. He’s hoping that with all of the political attention Solyndra’s failure has received, the value of the sign will appreciate by Election Day.
It reads: “Solyndra . . . Made in the USA.”
Research director Alice Crites contributed to this report.