Proterra Hired Obama-Connected Lobbying Firm Weeks Before Biden Visit

May 18, 2021

Weeks before President Joe Biden boosted Proterra with an official tour of its plant, the electric battery company hired a pair of Obama administration alums to lobby the White House for funding, amplifying its already concerning political connections to the Biden administration.

According to disclosure forms filed last Friday, the politically connected electric bus manufacturer brought on lobbying firm Boundary Stone Partners on April 1 to push the administration for increased funding of clean energy infrastructure projects, including the "electrification" of mass transportation vehicles. The two lobbyists registered to Proterra, Pete Gould and Christine Turner, both worked in the top echelons of the Obama administration—Gould was associate director of government affairs for the Department of Transportation, and Turner held numerous trade-related positions throughout the administration, including on the White House National Security Council.

Atop the lobbying firm sits Brandon Hurlbut, who was chief of staff at the Department of Energy and a top energy adviser to Obama at the White House. Hurlbut additionally co-chaired Clean Energy for Biden, a group that raised millions of dollars for Biden's presidential campaign and is now advocating clean energy spending. Along with Hurlbut, both Gould and Turner made several contributions to Biden's campaign, according to campaign finance records.

Proterra's political connections to the administration had already raised ethical flags on Capitol Hill due to the fact that Jennifer Granholm, Biden’s energy secretary, spent years on Proterra’s board and continues to own up to $5 million in Proterra stock. The acquisition of the former Obama officials shows Proterra has even deeper political connections than were previously known.

The lobbying disclosure form is Boundary Stone Partners' first for Proterra, which joins a number of renewable energy companies already employing the firm to lobby the Biden administration. It has not yet been disclosed how much Proterra is paying Boundary Stone Partners. Neither responded to requests for comment.

The disclosure form says Gould and Turner are lobbying on the topics of "[f]unding for transit infrastructure grants provisions related to low or no emission vehicle grant applications, clean energy and infrastructure investments, surface transportation reauthorization, vehicle fleet electrification, and manufacturing loan programs." Lobbying records show Gould has lobbied on similar issues for Proterra since last December as a lobbyist for a different firm, Catapult Policy Strategies, which he left to join Boundary Stone Partners.

Just 19 days after the firm was brought on, Biden and his top economic adviser Brian Deese toured Proterra and pledged that the administration's infrastructure plan would direct money to the company.

It is more than likely that Hurlbut directly engaged with Proterra as a member of the Obama administration. In his official Boundary Stone Partners biography, he boasts that he led the Obama administration's deployment of $90 billion worth of clean energy grants through the stimulus package. Proterra says its first electric bus was manufactured in 2009 due to government funds it received from the Obama administration.

The administration's promotion of Proterra has sparked conflict of interest concerns from Republican senators, who have called for investigations into Granholm's planned divestment from the company. Financial disclosures show the former Proterra board member still holds up to $5 million in company stock. Granholm has repeatedly said she is in the process of offloading the shares and that she has recused herself from any issues regarding the company.

Senators have raised questions about how her complete separation is possible, given Granholm's leadership on the issue of electric batteries. Biden signed an executive order that placed Granholm in charge of "identifying risks in the supply chain for high-capacity batteries, including electric-vehicle batteries, and policy recommendations to address these risks."

Under Granholm, the Department of Energy is slated to dole out millions of dollars to "support improvements in domestic manufacturing to build resilient, modern electricity infrastructure and address the climate emergency."

During the 2020 election cycle, employees of Boundary Stone Partners gave at least $27,000 to Biden’s campaign and related entities, including the Biden Victory Fund, according to FEC records.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment about whether Proterra hiring the Obama alums played any role in the administration's repeated boosts of the company.