Influence Peddling with a Shade of Green

Bob Beauprez
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Posted: Jun 17, 2012 12:01 AM

Everybody has heard about Solyndra and the many other failures of the DOE green energy grant and loan program replete with scandalous political paybacks to Obama supporters.  Now there's another one.  It involves the largest single loan guarantee of the entire $16 billion program, a current Cabinet Secretary and a former Chief-of-Staff to Vice-President Joe Biden. 

BrightSource Energy spent two years and half a million dollars lobbying the Obama Administration to approve a $1.6 billion loan guarantee for the gigantic Ivanpah solar-power plant in California's Mojave Desert.  Facing what the company called a "do-or-die deadline" in early 2011, BrightSource pulled out all the stops and further leveraged their considerable political connections to the max. 

Bernie Toon, former Chief-of-Staff to Joe Biden in the Senate, was hired to ramp-up lobbying efforts with top Administration officials.  On March 9, 2011, just days after being hired, Toon escorted three BrightSource executives to the White House for a meeting with Alan Hoffman, according to a Wall Street Journal investigation.   Hoffman was Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff to the Vice-President according to White House personnel reports.  

On March 15, there was a meeting with officials at the White House's Office of Management and Budget. 

BrightSource also leveraged the influence of company Chairman John Bryson by sending a "proposed letter" to the DOE green-energy loan program director, Jonathan Silver, threatening to call on Bryson's close personal friend White House Chief-of-Staff William Daley for intervention.  Silver apparently got the message, and within hours Silver sent an email saying there was no need for Bryson to contact Daley.  "Mr. Silver assured BrightSource that its deal was 'on track'" according to the WSJ. 

The $1.6 billion loan guarantee was approved on April 5, and Toon's lobbying contract ended.  He clipped a cool $40,000 for barely a month of his service.  The next month, May 2011, Obama nominated John Bryson to be Secretary of Commerce.  Bryson recently took a medical leave of absence after being involved in two hit-and-run accidents in southern California. 

Regardless of all the meetings and influence peddling at the highest levels, the White House maintains that the DOE made the BrightSource loan guarantee decision "based on the project's merits" completely independent of White House pressure or political considerations. 

But, they also made sure that the DOE's John Silver "didn't respond to messages seeking comment" by the Wall Street Journal about this latest messy disclosure of how business really gets done in the Obama White House.