While President Obama was busy lambasting Big Oil tax breaks on Thursday, yet another one of his environmental welfare recipients (the very kind he wants to redistribute oil subsidies to) was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Who needs to win the Mega Millions lottery? Start a pie-in-the-sky eco-boondoggle, and a half-billion-dollar jackpot ripe for squandering is all yours!
The Solyndra of the week is A123 Systems, an electric vehicle battery company based in Massachusetts. The firm also has battery plants in Michigan, where former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm once heralded A123 as a federal stimulus "success story." Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the company headquarters and hailed it as a "great example of how Recovery Act funding is helping American companies." In addition to nearly $300 million in Obama Recovery Act funds, Granholm kicked in another $135 million in tax credits and subsidies to bribe the company to keep jobs in her state.
How's the return on government investment? This green dud will have taxpayers seeing red. A123's official company motto is "Power. Safety. Life." But the firm's reality is "Out of power. Endangering safety. Clinging to life."
Earlier this week, the company announced a recall of malfunctioning battery packs manufactured in Livonia, Mich. A123 makes the products for Fisker, Chevrolet and BMW electric cars. Consumer Reports flagged the potentially hazardous defect caused by faulty calibration earlier this month. The recall will cost upward of $55 million.
A Deutsche Bank analyst wrote: "We no longer have enough confidence that (A123) can raise sufficient capital (without massive equity dilution) and/or continue to augment their book to future business. Recent quality issues may lead to concerns over (A123's) ability to manufacture with quality at high volumes, potentially leading to customer defections or at least difficulty in procuring new contracts."
When it rains, it pours. The dead battery debacle follows news of 125 layoffs in November due to diminished vehicle production by top client Fisker Auto. That troubled company (which A123 has itself dumped $20.5 million of stock equity and cash into) admitted faulty wiring problems with its electric cars.
While Michigan workers lost their jobs, Massachusetts executives burned through $155 million in cash this year and the company stock plummeted to just over $1. A123 lost a net $172 million over the first three quarters of 2011 and has yet to see a profit. Like Solyndra's top brass, A123 managers have been living high on the hog and partying it up with Democratic Party bigwigs.
The Michigan-based Mackinac Center reports that in February, "A123's Compensation Committee approved a $30,000 raise for (Chief Financial Officer David) Prystash just days after (its primary customer) Fisker Automotive announced the U.S. Energy Department had cut off what was left of its $528.7 million loan it had previously received."
Prystash's hike was 8.5 percent, taking his base salary from $350,000 to $380,000. One A123 vice president, Robert Johnson, received a 20.7 percent pay increase that saw his salary grow from $331,250 to $400,000. Another vice president, Jason Forcier, vice president of the automotive solutions group, climbed from a $331,250 base salary to $350,000.
Analyst Paul Chesser of the D.C.-based National Legal and Policy Center raises pointed questions about the timing of the pay raises: "Were their actions intended as greater protection for their executives in the case of a sale or bankruptcy of the company?" Inquiring House GOP investigators looking into the Obama Department of Energy's big green boondoggles should want to know.
And taxpayers should want to know more about the cozy ties between A123 and the White House and Democratic politicians. A123 Systems CEO David Vieau showered Barack Obama, the Democratic National Committee and key Democrats on Capitol Hill with nearly $17,000 before receiving the stimulus injection. A123 enviro-boodle also flowed to Mass. Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Ed Markey. Betting on "smart grid" cronyism has been a bonanza for the well-connected -- and a big, bad bet for taxpayers.