DOE Urged Solyndra to Postpone Layoffs Until After 2010 Elections

by Andrew Stiles

The latest Solyndra bombshell, from the Washington Post:

The Obama administration urged officers of the struggling solar company Solyndra to postpone announcing planned layoffs until after the November 2010 midterm elections, newly released e-mails show.

Solyndra, the now-shuttered California company, had been a poster child of President Obama’s initiative to invest in clean energies and received the administration’s first energy loan of $535 million. But a year ago, in October 2010, the solar panel manufacturer was quickly running out of money and had warned the Energy Department it would need emergency cash to avoid having to shut down…

Solyndra’s chief executive warned the Energy Department on Oct. 25, 2010, that he intended to announce worker layoffs Oct. 28. He said he was spurred by numerous calls from reporters and potential investors about rumors the firm was in financial trouble and was planning to lay off workers and close one of its two plants.

But in an Oct. 30, 2010, e-mail, advisers to Solyndra’s primary investor, Argonaut Equity, explain that the Energy Department had strongly urged the company to put off the layoff announcement until Nov. 3. The midterm elections were held Nov. 2, and led to Republicans taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“DOE continues to be cooperative and have indicated that they will fund the November draw on our loan (app. $40 million) but have not committed to December yet,” a Solyndra investor adviser wrote Oct. 30. “They did push very hard for us to hold our announcement of the consolidation to employees and vendors to Nov. 3rd – oddly they didn’t give a reason for that date.”

No reason, you say? As I note in my article on the homepage, Argonaut Equity is an investment arm of the foundation run by Oklahoma billionaire and major Obama fundraiser George Kaiser. Steve Mitchell, Argonaut’s managing director who sat on Solyndra’s board of directors, is a poster child for crony capitalism. E-mails released last week indicate that Kaiser and Mitchell discussed how best to approach the White House for help with Solyndra’s financial problems.

On Oct. 8, 2010, Kaiser urged Mitchell to “pursue your contacts with the WH,” in an effort secure additional federal aid. “Understood,” Mitchell wrote back, indicating that he planned to meet with White House official to discuss “assistance in selling [solar] panels to the government,” noting that the White House “has offered help in the past and we do have contact with the [White House] that we are working with.”

The Department of Energy would go on to negotiate a loan restructuring agreement for Solyndra that gave private investors like Argonaut priority over taxpayers with respect to the first $75 million recovered should the company go belly up, which it did. 


On Oct. 25, 2010, Solyndra chief executive Brian Harrison e-mailed the energy department’s loan staff to explain that Solyndra “has received some press inquiries about rumors of problems (one of them with quite accurate information) and we have received in bound calls from potential investors. Both of these data points indicate the story is starting to leak outside Solyndra.”

Harrison went on to state that he would “like to go forward with the internal communication [to employees regarding layoffs] on Thursday, October 28.”

Harrison’s e-mail was forwarded to program director, Jonathan Silver, who then alerted White House climate change czar Carol Browner and Vice President Biden’s point person on stimulus, Ron Klain. Browner asked for more information about the announcement, and Chu’s chief of staff explained he had left a voicemail message on her cellphone.

Solyndra announced its plans to “consolidate,” in part by laying off 40 workers and 150 contractors, on Nov. 3, 2010. So, who in the White House made the final call? Silver has already stepped from his role. Just how high up does this one go? Energy Secretary Steven Chu will certainty have a lot to explain when he testifies Thursday before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Investigations and Government Reform.

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