‘Spending Money Left and Right’

The Washington Post interviewed several former Solyndra employees who claim the solar-panel company went on a “sloppy” spending spree after receiving a $535 million guaranteed loan from the federal government:

Former employees of Solyndra, the shuttered solar company that exhausted half a billion dollars of taxpayer money, said they saw questionable spending by management almost as soon as a federal agency approved a $535 million government-backed loan for the startup.

A new factory built with public money boasted a gleaming conference room with glass walls that, with the flip of a switch, turned smoky-gray to conceal the room’s occupants. Hastily purchased state-of-the-art equipment ended up being sold for pennies on the dollar, still in its plastic bubble wrap, employees said.

As the $344 million factory went up just down the road from the company’s leased plant in Fremont, Calif., workers watched as pallets of unsold solar panels stacked up in storage. Many wondered: Did we even need this new factory?

“After we got the loan guarantee, they were just spending money left and right,” said former Solyndra engineer Lindsey Eastburn. “Because we were doing well, nobody cared. Because of that infusion of money, it made people sloppy.”

When administration officials testified before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Rep. Brian Bilbray (R., Calif.) grilled them on why they approved a loan to build a completely new facility (in California of all places!). I interview him here.

As it turns out, Solyndra wasn’t just wasting money on fancy gadgets they didn’t need. Once they realized, in the words of billionaire Obama fundraiser and Solyndra investor George Kaiser: “There’s never been more money shoved out of the government’s door in world history, and probably never will be again, than in the last few months and in the next 18 months” (referring to the first stimulus package), the company spent generously on Washington lobbyists in an effort to direct even more federal dollars their way:

Solyndra’s ability to secure federal backing also made the company eager for more assistance, interviews and records show. Company executives ramped up their Washington lobbying efforts, hiring a former Senate aide to work with the White House and the Energy Department. Within a week of getting a loan guarantee commitment from the Energy Department, Solyndra applied for another guarantee worth $400 million. It never won final approval…

Employees said that in 2010 they noticed that solar panel inventories were growing — raising questions about why they weren’t being sold. Another major problem arose when the new assembly equipment arrived laste and had technical problems. VDL officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Although Harrison stressed in a Post interview earlier this year that he focused on business, not “the political aspect of what happens in Washington,” public records show that since 2008, Solyndra has spent more than $1 million on lobbying inside the Beltway.

Lobbying expenditures of $160,000 a year in 2008 and 2009 accelerated as Solyndra’s financial and political troubles mounted. By 2010, such spending had grown to $550,000. So far this year, Solyndra has reported spending $220,000, but that number will grow as more reports filter in.

Read the whole thing here.

Andrew Stiles — Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online. He previously worked at the Washington Free Beacon, and was an intern at The Hill newspaper. Stiles is a 2009 ...

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