President Obama claims that political considerations did not influence the Energy Department’s green energy loan program, but newly-released internal emails show that his administration subsidized Nevada companies in order to help Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., win his 2010 reelection campaign.
“And these are decisions, by the way, that are made by the Department of Energy, they have nothing to do with politics,” Obama said last week when asked about the green companies that have gone bankrupt despite receiving taxpayer support.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released DOE emails today that compromise Obama’s position on two counts: one, the emails show that Obama himself was involved in approving loans; two, DOE officials were keenly aware of the political interests at stake, as they regarded the loans as a way for the White House to help Reid by giving him a way to brag about bringing federal money into Nevada.
Messages from late in 2010 demonstrate that DOE officials were concerned that President Obama’s personal desire to get DOE loans approved was putting tax payer money at risk.
“I am growing increasingly worried about a fast track process imposed on us at the POTUS level based on this chaotic process that we are undergoing,” Loan Program Office Senior Credit Advisor Jim McCrea wrote to loan program executive director Jonathan Silver in October 2010. “[B]y designing the fast track process and having it approved at the POTUS level (which is an absolute waste of his time!) it legitimizes every element and it becomes embedded like the 55% recovery rate which also was imposed by POTUS.”
Silver was sympathetic to McCrea, but said it was too late to change course. “While I might agree with you intellectually, that is not where we are,” he wrote back. “Let’s finish this process and get back to business.”
By that point, McCrea might have regretted the political interest in the loan program, but he was quite happy about it only months earlier.
In December, 2009, McCrea forwarded one of his colleagues an article about how Reid would struggle in the 2010 campaign along with a comment on how it might affect the DOE loan program.
“Reid may be desperate,” McCrea wrote. “WH may want to help. Short term considerations may be more important than longer term considerations and what’s a billion anyhow?” That’s a troubling closing question given that the DOE lost over half-a-billion dollars on one company when Solyndra went bankrupt.
In that same message, McCrea also speculated that, in light of Reid’s campaign struggles, “there may be an opportunity to move several transactions simultaneously, allowing LGPO to finish with a trifecta!”
A May 2010 email shows that Reid requested a meeting with Jonathan Silver — the Obama bundler who resigned his post at DOE after the Solyndra bankruptcy — to discuss green energy projects in Nevada.
Silver interpreted Reid’s request in light of the campaign. “Reid is constantly hit at home for not bringing in the federal dollars,” he wrote. Silver’s task, according to the DOE memo prepared for his meeting, was to assure Reid that “we anticipate a good number of projects to be approved in the coming months.”
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee notes that “throughout 2010 LPO emails indicate that projects in Nevada were prioritized because they were ‘high profile,’ ‘tied to larger events,’ or because they had Senator Reid’s support.”
Nevada Geothermal received a $98.5 million loan guarantee. Solar Reserve, another Nevada project included Solyndra investors among it’s board, received a $737 million loan guarantee (after Solyndra went bankrupt). LS Power Associations, which used to be known as SWIP, received a $343 million loan guarantee from DOE. (Silver specifically asked for information about the SWIP project as he prepared to meet with Reid.)