The Solyndra loan scandal is a case study in crony capitalism run amok. As e-mails and other documents continue to be released, two cronies in particular stand out: the two Steves.
STEVE SPINNER The sheer audacity of Spinner’s involvement with the Solyndra loan is something to behold. After raising more than $500,000 for Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008, Spinner was named to the Presidential Transition Team as a member of the technology-innovation-and-government-reform working group. As the new administration was forming up, he joined the Department of Energy in April 2009 as the “chief strategic operations officer” of the loan program that would eventually place a half-billion-dollar bet on Solyndra.
At the time, Spinner’s wife, Allison, was a partner at Wilson Sonsini, the law firm representing Solyndra in its DOE loan application. Spinner signed an ethics agreement stipulating that he would “not participate in any discussion” concerning clients of his wife’s firm, which Solyndra compensated to the tune of $2.44 million, all of it made possible by the DOE loan guarantee. However, e-mails released by the White House suggest that Spinner was a key player in the discussions of Solyndra.
The e-mails reveal that in late August 2009, just days before the $535 million loan guarantee was formally announced, Spinner was an active participant in major aspects of the administration’s carefully orchestrated rollout of the Solyndra loan approval, which was to be the first of its kind, and which the White House viewed as a perfect opportunity to tout its “green jobs” agenda. The rollout, Spinner suggested, should be a “big event,” with “golden shovels, bulldozers, hardhats, etc.”; either President Obama or Vice President Biden should attend. The good political optics of such an event, Spinner suggested in one e-mail to another DOE official, “might spur [the Office of Management and Budget] a little faster to help the closing.”
In fact, Spinner appears to have been a primary point of contact for senior White House officials as well as top Solyndra executives, both of whom were anxiously awaiting a final decision from the Office of Management and Budget on the company’s application. “Any word from OMB?” Spinner wrote to DOE career official Kelly Colyar on August 28. “I have the [office of the vice president] and [the White House] breathing down my neck on this.” Later that day, Spinner contacted another department official, framing the same question in a decidedly more urgent tone. “How [f***]ing hard is this?” he wrote. “What is he waiting for? Will we have it by the end of the day?”
Throughout the Solyndra loan process, Spinner defended the company against the many doubts and concerns raised within the administration, including questions from climate czar Carol Browner’s office. On August 19, Spinner e-mailed an aide to then–Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel stating that Solyndra was a solid bet deserving of federal support. “I haven’t heard anything negative on my side,” he wrote in one e-mail exchange. He even offered to set up a meeting with the individuals who had expressed concern, writing “I . . . have no idea what they’re referring [to].”