Den of Cronies

DOE official responsible for loan program held party for Al Gore during vet

July 20, 2012

The former head of the Department of Energy’s controversial loan guarantee program held a high-power soiree for Al Gore while interviewing for the position, and invited two of the DOE officials interviewing him to attend, according to recently disclosed emails.

The party, while legal, highlights the tangled web of political and personal connections between the loan office, environmental groups, and venture capitalists involved in many of the projects that received Energy Department loan guarantees.

Jonathan Silver, the former executive director of the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program, was invited to interview for the position in late September 2009. Emails disclosed in a House Oversight Committee hearing Wednesday reveal that Silver invited Steve Isakowitz, the agency’s chief financial officer, and Matt Rogers, a senior adviser on the Recovery Act, to a party he and his wife were hosting to promote Al Gore’s environmental advocacy group, the Alliance for Climate Protection.

"At the risk of seeming presumptuous, I want to mention that my wife and I are holding a small event for Al Gore at our home this coming Thursday evening, October 1st," Silver wrote to Isakowitz. "Mr. Gore will be talking about the work that the Alliance for Climate Protection, a group he founded in 2006, is doing. One of the projects the alliance has undertaken (called RePower America) focuses on America’s clean energy goals with proposals to ‘repower’ America and revitalize our national energy infrastructure. Repower America advocates and invests in energy efficiency, clean renewable energy sources, a unified smart energy national grid and clean air technology, and I thought you and/or Matt Rogers might find the conversation interesting. You are both welcome to join us."

Isakowitz said he would have to run it by the agency’s general counsel.

"We need to be careful these days going to closed events as General Counsel needs to okay," Isakowitz wrote. "This is probably more than you thought when you offered, but such is the ways of govt."

Silver clarified the nature of the event.

"It’s a reception (not a fundraiser, although that is the obvious longer-term goal) at our home," he wrote. "I expect there will be about 40 people or so, generally folks we know who are interested in this issue and have the capacity to write significant checks and a couple of others with professional involvement in the topic."

"However, for GC purposes, this is not a fund-raiser," Silver repeated. "No elected officials are expected; the Alliance is paying for the food and beverages; we are providing the house and paying for the caterers, flowers, valet, etc."

Silver also included a list of professional references, a "sample of names of individuals who know me well and either work, or have worked, in areas that touch on the potential DOE assignment."

The list provided included Carol Browner, director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy; Larry Summers, Director of President Obama's National Economic Council; Jeff Zients, Deputy Director for Management of the Office of Management and Budget; and Congressmen Henry Waxman (D., Calif.), John Dingell (D., Mich.), Ed Markey (D., Mass.), and Jane Harman (D., Calif.).

Also included on the lists were Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Energy Secretary Federico Pena, and U.S. Import-Export Bank Chairman Fred Hochberg.

Isakowitz, per the general counsel’s advice, declined to attend.

The emails shed light on Silver’s political connections and on his attitude toward his eventual position.

The Energy Department’s loan program has been the subject of criticism by Republicans ever since the solar firm Solyndra, recipient of a $535 million DOE loan guarantee, went bankrupt in August 2011. GOP congressmen have accused the agency of doling out loans to political allies and ignoring warning signs that could cost taxpayers millions.

Previous Oversight Committee hearings have revealed compromising emails from Silver. During a May Oversight hearing, for example, emails were disclosed between Silver and Brightsource CEO John Woolard, whose company was vying to obtain a conditional loan guarantee worth $1.6 billion in taxpayer dollars to build a solar farm in California.

Woolard asked Silver to review a letter drafted by Woolard and then-Brightsource chairman John Bryson (later to be appointed Commerce Secretary by President Obama). The letter was intended for then-White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley. It was ultimately never sent.

Around 80 percent of the $20.5 billion in loan guarantees awarded by the Energy Department as of September 2011 went to companies either run by, or primarily owned by, donors and bundlers to President Obama, according to Peter Schweizer, author of Throw Them All Out.

The White House and Energy Department have insisted there was no political influence in the decision-making process that awarded billions of dollars in federal loan guarantees to renewable energy companies.

"All decisions on the loan program were made on the merits after extensive review by career officials and independent experts," Energy Department spokesman Damien LaVera told the Washington Free Beacon.

Before leading the DOE loan office, Silver was a managing director of Core Capital Partners, a venture capital firm he cofounded in 1999 that focused on green energy projects.

Employees at Core Capital Partners have given $149,624 to political candidates from the 2008 election cycle to the present, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Only two donations went to a Republican.

Silver also worked in the Commerce, Interior, and Treasury departments during the Clinton administration.

He resigned from his position at the Energy Department in Oct. 2011 to become a "distinguished visiting fellow" at Third Way, a D.C. public policy think-tank.

At least six firms that received financial backing from the Energy Department as part of President Obama’s touted "green energy initiative" have collapsed so far.

Solar firm Amonix, which received millions in grants, tax breaks and federal loans, recently shuttered, according to news reports. Abound Solar Inc., which was awarded $400 million in federal DOE loan guarantees and a $9.2 million loan from the taxpayer-backed Export-Import bank, announced it was filing for bankruptcy in June.

Beacon Power, the recipient of a $43 million DOE loan guarantee, announced bankruptcy in October 2011. Ener1 Inc., which owns a company that received a $118 million DOE grant to make electric-car batteries, filed for bankruptcy in January. Another solar company, Solar Trust, which received a $2.1 billion conditional loan guarantee, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April.

Nearly one-third of the Energy Department’s loan recipients are at risk of default.