Conservatives generally object to “stimulus” spending on two grounds: It’s not an effective job creator, because it redirects money from companies that don’t need government backing to ones that do, and it breeds political favoritism. But amid the ruckus over federal financing for Fisker Automotive’s Finnish-produced line of sports cars — American taxpayers supporting Finland’s labor market — little attention has been paid to the political muscle backing Fisker and a host of other federally financed “green” firms.
Hoover Institution fellow Peter Schweizer reports in his new book that as of mid-September, 80 percent of Energy Department renewable-energy loans went to firms that have supported the president or his party financially. The administration, for its part, seems more concerned with the “optics” of such allegations than the problematic nature of a federal bureaucracy that rewards political insiders. Hence, a former Obama campaign staffer suggested in February that Energy Secretary Steven Chu be fired, not for any alleged wrongdoing, but rather to preempt “the wave of GOP attacks that are surely coming over Solyndra and other inside DOE deals that have gone to Obama donors and have underperformed.”
In the case of Fisker specifically, conservatives should recognize the importance of California venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers — which is one of Fisker’s larger investors, having contributed mightily to its initial $1.1 billion capital infusion. The company is teeming with political connections.
Al Gore joined Kleiner Perkins as a senior partner in 2007 — to save the planet, CNN reported. Top Kleiner Perkins executives have given more than a million dollars to federal candidates and parties since 1991, most of it going to Democrats. Obama himself has received $19,000 from the company’s employees.
While Gore is the most famous Kleiner Perkins executive, John Doerr, another senior partner, has also been very active in liberal politics. He currently sits on the president’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, and hosted President Obama at his home for a dinner with top Silicon Valley executives in February. Doerr was also very active in pushing the Global Warming Solutions Act, California’s punitive 2006 carbon-emissions law.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Brook Byers, also a major partner, has made $391,110 in political contributions since 1990, $148,500 of which went directly to the Democratic party (most of the rest went to individual Democratic candidates). Kleiner Perkins co-founder Frank Caufield’s $394,950 in political contributions since 1990 have gone almost entirely to Democrats. Another top partner, David Blood, helped organizea $2,300-a-head fundraiser for Candidate Obama in 2008.
Vice President Joe Biden’s October 2009 visit to Fisker’s Delaware production facility has fueled criticism of the $529 million in taxpayer financing for the company. But Fisker was not the only Kleiner Perkins–backed company to enjoy a visit from a top administration official.
Electric-vehicle manufacturer Proterra hosted Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood at its Greenville, S.C., production facility in January. LaHood touted the visit on his blog under the headline “Winning the future, Proterra style.” Energy Secretary Steven Chu toured the Las Vegas production facilities of solar-panel manufacturer Amonix in June “to see first-hand how the Obama Administration’s renewable energy policies are turning into economic activity and energy independence.” Amonix and Proterra both received financing through Obama’s stimulus package — $5.9 million for the former, and $6.6 million for the latter.
Amonix, Proterra, and Fisker are three of at least nine companies financed by Kleiner Perkins that have received taxpayer backing in the form of direct payments, contracts, or preferable tax treatment. The others include EdeniQ, FloDesign, MiaSole, Primus Power, QuantumScape, and TAS Energy. Kleiner Perkins did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
With vocal protest movements on the left and right speaking out against crony capitalism and a congressional supercommittee searching for savings, the realization that stimulus spending privileges the connected could lend some popularity to a fiscal policy that rewards economic merit rather than political muscle.
— Lachlan Markay is an investigative reporter at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Media and Public Policy.