Billionaire philanthropist and entrepreneur George Kaiser has come under scrutiny for his possible role in a complex investment scandal involving California solar company Solyndra, the White House and two of Kaiser’s investment firms.
It’s a complicated story, and one that’s still unfolding.
The short of it: In 2009, Solyndra received $527 million dollars in loan guarantees from the Federal Financing Bank/U.S. Treasury. So when the firm filed bankruptcy on Wednesday, citing an inability to compete with its Chinese rivals, the FBI responded by raiding the company. From Thomson-Reuters:
The search comes amid intensifying pressure on the Obama administration, which championed Solyndra as being at the forefront of solar technology when President Barack Obama visited the company’s Fremont, California, facility in 2010.
“We are executing search warrants at Solyndra regarding a joint FBI and Department of Energy Office of Inspector General investigation,” Julianne Sohn of the FBI said in an email.
Here’s where Kaiser enters the picture. From MuniLand:
Two of Solyndra’s largest investors are Argonaut Ventures I, L.L.C. and the GKFF Investment Company, LLC. Both firms are represented on the Solyndra board of directors by Steven R. Mitchell (see Solyndra S-1 page 119). Both are investment vehicles of the George Kaiser Family Foundation of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
According to the Daily Caller, Kaiser was present at the White House 16 of the 20 times Solyndra officials and investors visited.
The insinuation is that Kaiser, an Obama donor, may have had undue influence in convincing the Obama Administration to invest $500 million in an unproven upstart energy company.
To further complicate things: according to MuniLand, Solyndra’s financing documents were re-written in February of this year, re-prioritizing Kaiser’s Argonaut above the Department of Energy (as in, above the taxpayers) as the first in line to be repaid.
Kaiser, for his part, has denied any impropriety.
MuniLand’s conclusion sums up the stakes of the scandal:
Alleged political favoritism will kill public enthusiasm for reorienting policy towards renewable energy. Solyndra seems to be a tale of dirty solar. Hopefully it won’t block out the sun.
For Tulsans, it hits a little closer to home.