Fisker Fireworks

House Oversight Committee examines federal loan to failed electric car manufacturer in contentious hearing

Henrik Fisker, founder of Fisker Automotive, testifies before the House Oversight Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Job Creation, and Regulatory Affairs / AP
• April 24, 2013 7:20 pm


Congressional Republicans examined the Department of Energy’s loan to Fisker Automotive despite objections from Democrats and obstinacy from the administration in a contentious hearing Wednesday afternoon.

The Republican members of the House Oversight’s Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Job Creation, and Regulatory Affairs accused the Department of Energy of engaging in political cronyism, stonewalling a congressional investigation, and breaking the Federal Records Act.

"We need to understand why the Department of Energy thought Fisker was a viable company," Subcommittee Chairman Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) said at the beginning of the hearing.

Republicans displayed documents throughout the hearing showing that Fisker had a CCC+ credit rating and was under collateralized for the loan it received. Republicans also brought up an email from a top Fisker executive asking that the loan approval be accelerated because the company was in dire financial straights.

Democrats repeatedly objected, arguing the documents were unverified and unreliable.

"I’m shocked that we would go with other sources to find out that we’ve been lied to," Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), chairman of the full committee, said after one such objection.

Issa accused Jonathan Silver, the former executive director of the Energy Department’s Loan Programs Office, of breaking the Federal Records Act. He lamented that the Department of Energy had not given the committee the records that they had requested.

"We have been stymied by this administration," Issa said.

The committee’s witnesses, especially the Department of Energy representative, consistently said they had not seen the documents before and did not know what they were about.

Republicans also pointed out that major investors in Fisker met with senior officials in the Obama administration and Department of Energy multiple times. John Doerr and Al Gore, both members of the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, met with the executive director of the Energy Department’s Loan Programs Office the month before Fisker’s loan was frozen, for example.

The Energy Department’s representative argued that the executive director of the loan program could not influence the office’s decisions because he did not sit on the relevant committees.

Fisker’s cofounders defended the company against the accusations of cronyism and poor management.

"I am not aware and do not believe that any improper political influence was used in connection with the company's loan application or subsequent negotiations with the Department of Energy," said Henrik Fisker, who resigned from Fisker’s board earlier this year and no longer has any connection to the company.

Both Fisker and Bernhard Koehler, Fisker’s current CEO, expressed hope that the loans would be repaid, although they said they are currently looking for other investors or buyers to save the company.

The only Democrat in the room for much of the hearing was ranking member Matt Cartwright (D., Pa.). Others occasionally came in to defend the Energy Department’s loan program as responsible and lamented the hearing’s tone.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D., Va.) compared the hearing to a "Soviet show trial."

"This is an honorable president, and his administration has conducted itself honorably," Connolly said.

Fisker Automotive’s troubles have been widely reported. The company’s latest blow came last week when it received from a judge only 10 percent of its claim against its former battery manufacturer that went bankrupt.