George Kaiser, the top investor in the failed company Solyndra and a chief fundraiser for the Obama campaign, visited White House officials at least 16 times between March 2009 and July 2011, including three times in one day shortly after the administration expressed second thoughts about granting the company a loan, according to White House visitor logs.
Solyndra, a maker of thin-film solar panels, received a $535 million loan from the Department of Energy in September 2009. In August 2011, the company declared bankruptcy.
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Kaiser, an Oklahoma billionaire who led Solyndra's biggest investor, Argonaut Private Equity, donated $50,000 to the Obama campaign. President Barack Obama visited Solyndra in May 2010, saying, "The true engine of economic growth will always be companies like Solyndra."
Republicans have accused the Obama administration of political favoritism in granting the Solyndra loan.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Kaiser never discussed Solyndra with administration officials during any of his meetings. Schultz said they spoke only about the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
“Kaiser himself has been emphatic and consistent that he never discussed the loan,” Schultz said in an e-mail to California Watch. “After 185,000 pages of documents, nine committee staff briefings, five Congressional hearings, emails from Solyndra investors, and a Committee interview with George Kaiser, nothing contradicts that.”
Renzi Stone, a Kaiser Family Foundation spokesman, said that "at no time did Mr. Kaiser exert any political influence" regarding the Solyndra loan.
On March 10, 2009, an unnamed White House budget analyst nixed Obama’s trip to Solyndra’s Fremont plant planned for nine days later, according to e-mails released by House Republicans. Obama was scheduled to announce the Solyndra loan guarantee, but the analyst wrote, “This deal is NOT ready for prime time.”
Two days later, Kaiser made three separate visits to the White House, each lasting an hour or more, according to White House logs.
During those March 12 meetings, Kaiser met with Pete Rouse, then senior adviser to the president; Austan Goolsbee of the National Economic Council; and Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, according to e-mails released by House Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
A week later, the Department of Energy conditionally approved the Solyndra loan – the first of more than $36 billion in loans to clean energy companies.
Kaiser also visited the White House at key times after Solyndra obtained the loan. One of those visits was on March 14, 2011, just after Solyndra completed the controversial restructuring of its loan, which ensured private investors would be paid before taxpayers if the company defaulted.
Kaiser also visited the White House this year on July 18, about the same time Solyndra officials and the lobbyist firm Glover Park Group were visiting Congress to convince members that the company was still on solid financial ground. A little more than a month later, Solyndra filed for bankruptcy. Kaiser spokesman Stone said Solyndra's deteriorating financial condition wasn't discussed during the July 18 meeting.
E-mails released earlier this month by House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee showed that at least once, Kaiser was present during a meeting with White House officials when Solyndra was discussed. According to a March 5, 2010, e-mail from Kaiser to Steve Mitchell, managing director of Argonaut Private Equity, “Solyndra came up” when Kaiser and Ken Levit, executive director of the Kaiser Family Foundation, visited the White House on Feb. 23, 2010. White House and Department of Energy officials were copied on the e-mail.
“Everyone responded simultaneously about their thorough knowledge of the Solyndra story,” Kaiser wrote to Mitchell, who also sat on Solyndra's board.