The Washington Post

Top Obama donor George Kaiser says he didn’t play politics to win government loan

In this May 26, 2010 file photo, President Barack Obama, with Solyndra Chief Executive Officer Chris Gronet, looks at a solar panel, during a tour of Solyndra, Inc., a solar panel manufacturing facility, in Fremont, Calif. Solyndra received a $535 million loan from the U.S. government has announced layoffs of 1,100 workers and plans to file for bankruptcy. (Alex Brandon/AP)

A top donor to President Obama did not use political influence or talk to administration officials about a massive government loan to a solar company backed by his investment funds, according to a statement issued by his family foundation.

The foundation of Tulsa billionaire George Kaiser said it took a hit like all other investors in Solyndra, which this week shuttered its plant and laid off 1,100 workers. The California-based solar panel manufacturer won a $535 million government-backed loan to spur clean-energy innovation, but now taxpayers may be obligated to pay it back.

In a Thursday statement, the George Kaiser Family Foundation said Kaiser, a major fundraising bundler for Obama, is not personally invested in Solyndra and “did not participate in any discussions with the U.S. Government regarding the loan.”

The statement came as House Republicans vowed to more fully investigate the extent of White House involvement in the federal backing for Solyndra. They said they have found evidence that the White House tracked the company’s application, and that officials weighing its proposal knew of the White House’s interest.

Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu visited Solyndra’s plant, and Vice President Biden spoke at its groundbreaking ceremony via live video. Each described the company as a model of the administration’s effort to create millions of new “green” American jobs.

The primary investors in Solyndra were groups linked to Kaiser: the family foundation, where he is the primary funder; and the investment firm Argonaut Private Equity. Kaiser has been a frequent White House visitor.

Solyndra once offered a unique solar-panel technology and the promise of 4,000 jobs. But its cylindrical design proved to be too expensive to compete in the market.

The foundation statement attributed its loss to “the company’s inability to overcome serious challenges in the marketplace, especially the drastic decline in solar panel prices during the past two years caused in part by subsidies provided by the government of China to Chinese solar panel manufacturers.”

On Friday, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Solyndra’s president criticizing the company for laying off workers without warning when it closed its doors Wednesday. He called on him to provide compensation and benefits to its laid off employees.

Carol Leonnig covers federal agencies with a focus on government accountability.
Joe Stephens joined The Washington Post in 1999 and specializes in in-depth enterprise reporting.

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