For a while after Solyndra tanked, the administration stonewalled the House subcommittee’s investigation, but we now know that minions in the Energy Department and the Office of Management and Budget had enormous qualms about the Solyndra loan. They realized that the company was hemorrhaging money and, even with the loan, would lack the necessary working capital to turn that equation around. Yet they caved under White House pressure to sign off in time for Vice President Joe Biden to make a ballyhooed announcement of the loan in September 2009. An OMB e-mail laments that the timing of the loan approval was driven by the politics of the announcement “rather than the other way around.”
Why so much pressure to give half a billion dollars to a doomed venture? The administration insists it had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that Solyndra’s big backers include the George Kaiser Family Foundation. No, of course not. George Kaiser, an Oklahoma oil magnate, just happens to be a major Obama fundraiser who bundled oodles in contributions for the president’s 2008 campaign. Solyndra officers and investors are said to have visited the White House no fewer than 20 times while the loan guarantee was being considered and, later, revised. Kaiser, too, made several visits — but not to worry: Both he and administration officials deny any impropriety. You’re to believe that the White House was just turning up the heat on OMB and DOE because Solyndra seemed like such a swell investment.
Except it didn’t seem so swell to people who knew how to add and subtract, and those people weren’t all at OMB and DOE. Flush with confidence that their mega-loan from Uncle Sam would make the company attractive to private investors, Solyndra’s backers prepared to take the company public. Unfortunately, SEC rules for an initial public offering of stock require the disclosure of more than Obama speeches glowing with solar power. Companies that want access to the market have to reveal their financial condition.
In Solyndra’s case, outside auditors from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) found that condition to be dire. “The company has suffered recurring losses from operations, negative cash flows since inception, and has a net stockholders’ deficit,” the PWC accountants concluded. Even with the gigantic Obama loan, Solyndra was such a basket case that PWC found “substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern.”
The “going concern” language is not boilerplate. As Townhall finance maven John Ransom explains, it is a term of art to which auditors resort when there is an extraordinary need to protect themselves and the company from legal liability. Angry investors who’ve lost their shirts tend to scapegoat the loser company’s accountants. In truth, even if the accountants affixed a neon “going concern” sign to the company’s financial statements, investors would have no one but themselves to blame. But it is unusual: The language is absent from the statements of many companies that actually end up going bankrupt. Auditors reserve it for the hopeless causes — like Solyndra.
With no alternative if they wanted to make a play for market financing, Solyndra’s backers disclosed the auditors’ bleak diagnosis in March 2010. The government had thus been aware of it for two months when President Obama made his May 26 Solyndra speech — the speech Solyndra backers were clearly hoping would mitigate the damage.
As president, Obama had a fiduciary responsibility to be forthright about Solyndra’s grim prospects — in speaking to the American taxpayers whose money he had redistributed, and to the American investors who were about to be solicited for even more funding. Instead, he pulled a Martha Stewart.
The president looked us in the eye and averred that, when it came to channeling public funds into private hands, “We can see the positive impacts right here at Solyndra.” He bragged that the $535 billion loan had enabled the company to build the state-of-the-art factory in which he was then speaking. He said nothing about how Solyndra was continuing to lose money — public money — at a catastrophic pace. Instead, he painted the brightest of pictures: 3,000 construction workers to build the thriving plant; manufacturers in 22 states building an endless stream of supplies; technicians in a dozen states constructing the advanced equipment that would make the factory hum; and Solyndra fully “expect[ing] to hire a thousand workers to manufacture solar panels and sell them across America and around the world.”