The U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) steered another taxpayer-backed loan toward a green energy firm that shares an advisory board member with the bank.
The Ex-Im Bank recently authorized a pair of loans totaling $33.6 million to Abengoa—a Spain-based energy company—that will fund the export of American-made products for use in solar projects in Spain and South Africa.
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D.) sits on the Abengoa International Advisory Board and is currently listed on the Ex-Im bank’s website as a member of the 2013 advisory committee that helps guide bank policy.
The Ex-Im Bank did not immediately respond to request for comment on Richardson’s involvement in the loan.
The Ex-Im Bank said its financing will support approximately 200 U.S. jobs.
"Ex-Im Bank's consistent support of renewable-energy projects demonstrates our commitment to supporting high-skilled jobs in an important homegrown industry and improving the environment," said Ex-Im Bank chairman and president Fred P. Hochberg in a statement. "In addition to contributing to cleaner sources of energy and supporting U.S. jobs, these two transactions will support President Obama's goal of doubling access to power in sub-Saharan Africa."
The Ex-Im Bank offers foreign companies lines of taxpayer-backed credit to purchase American products.
However, critics say Richardson’s holding a seat on both Abengoa and the Export-Import Bank’s advisory boards is just another example of cronyism at the bank.
"The Export Import Bank is just a slush fund for corporate welfare and it should be eliminated," said Barney Keller, spokesman for the conservative Club For Growth. "It's no surprise that the well-connected and powerful are the ones benefitting from this taxpayer-backed monstrosity."
The Club for Growth is one of several small-government groups that opposed the reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank last year. The reauthorization bill raised the limit on the total financing the bank can guarantee borrowers from $100 billion to $140 billion.
The groups, along with several conservative members of Congress, oppose the bank on the grounds that it favors large, politically connected companies and distorts markets.
Supporters of the bank say it encourages U.S. exports and supports American jobs.
As previously reported by the Free Beacon, The Ex-Im Bank approved $152.2 million in loans to Abengoa in December 2012.
"Mr. Richardson had no role or communication with anyone in the Bank regarding that transaction," a spokesman for the Ex-Im Bank told the Free Beacon at the time. "His appointment to the Advisory Board was made public only after he had been fully vetted by the bank, which occurred after the initial press release was issued."
"As stated previously, Richardson had no communication or role with anyone at the bank regarding this transaction," an Ex-Im Bank spokesman said in a follow-up statement. "The bank has financed several Abengoa projects over the last few years and the details of this transaction were finalized prior to Richardson joining the advisory board."
Richardson has other ties to the Ex-Im Bank. He headlined a fundraiser for Diane Farrell’s 2004 congressional campaign that was expected to bring in $300,000. Farrell is a former Ex-Im Bank director. She voted to approve a final commitment on an $83 million loan to Abengoa for a plant in Mexico while still a director in 2011.
The Inter-American Development Bank also awarded the green energy company a $41 million loan in December for a wind project in Uruguay. Richardson also serves on a selection committee for an annual award given out by the bank.
Abengoa has garnered a wealth of federal subsidies and preferential treatment from the Obama administration, including fast-tracked leasing from the Interior Department for solar farms, and loan awards worth $2.78 billion from the Energy and Treasury Department.
Abengoa’s American green energy projects—Solana, Mojave Solar, and Abengoa Bioenergy Biomass of Kansas LLC—had low credit ratings but were approved for significant DOE loans.
Solana’s Fitch credit rating was BB+ in 2010 when the company received $1.45 billion from the Energy Department. Mojave Solar’s rating was BB when the company received $1.2 billion in September 2011. Bioenergy Biomass was rated CCC when it received a $132.4 million loan in August 2010.
Allegations of cronyism dogged Richardson’s tenure as New Mexico governor. Some of Richardson’s largest campaign contributors received lucrative regulatory exemptions and preferences that aided their companies.
"State regulatory changes helped transform a small company owned by a pair of Richardson administration insiders into the biggest ‘cradle to grave’ oil field waste disposal company in the Oil Patch of southeast New Mexico," the Albuquerque Journal reported
Critics accused Richardson of being involved in another pay-to-play scandal involving a New Mexico state grant to CDR Financial Products. A Justice Department investigation into the pay-to-play allegations against Richardson was dropped in 2009.
Richardson served as secretary of the Department of Energy prior to his election as governor.