A source in the Democratic Party who is irked by the Solyndra hype (but prefers not to be identified) sent me to these excerpts from recent media pieces. See if you can identify the theme that emerges:
Bloomberg/Businessweek’s Joshua Green, 10/13/11: “In fact, Solyndra is no scandal — nobody has uncovered any wrongdoing … So far, the investigation has only turned up e-mails showing how eager the White House was to tout the Solyndra deal.”
Barack Obama’s presidency has been notably free of scandal, but Republicans think they’ve finally found one in last month’s bankruptcy of the California solar company Solyndra, which received a $535 million loan from the Energy Department under a federal stimulus program meant to speed the development of clean-energy technology. In fact, Solyndra is no scandal — nobody has uncovered any wrongdoing … In the business world, that’s no big deal. It’s assumed some companies will fail, but that enough will prosper to merit the broader portfolio of investments. But in politics, it’s a very big deal — no one considers the broader context and failure is automatically assumed to be the result of incompetence or malfeasance. That’s especially true, and especially damaging, when the opposition party can launch hearings and investigations, as House Republicans are doing now. So far, the investigation has only turned up e-mails showing how eager the White House was to tout the Solyndra deal. Last year, Obama cited the company as an example of “American ingenuity and dynamism.” That’s embarrassing now that Solyndra has gone bust. But it’s the only company of the 28 that received loans to have failed. Meanwhile, the program has funded the world’s largest wind farm, its largest solar thermal plant, and its largest photovoltaic solar array. In other words, it has performed very much as intended.
Wall Street Journal, 10/14/11: “There is no evidence linking the loan guarantee to Mr. Kaiser …”
There is no evidence linking the loan guarantee to Mr. [George] Kaiser, who was a significant donor to President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. Still the matter has ballooned into a political scandal, drawing congressional and criminal inquiries, and spotlighting the kinds of questions that can arise when government plays venture capitalist.
New York Times, Joe Nocera, 10/3/11: The argument “that Solyndra used political influence to land a loan that was destined to blow up … strikes me as utterly bogus.”
In the firestorm over Solyndra, three main criticisms have emerged. The first is that Solyndra wasn’t ready for prime time and that the Department of Energy, which gave it a $535 million federally guaranteed loan, should have known as much. The second is that Solyndra used political influence to land a loan that was destined to blow up … The second argument … strikes me as utterly bogus. Yes, there are a few e-mails from inside the government that questioned the loan guarantee. And, yes, Solyndra hired — shocker! — lobbyists. But you can always find, after the fact, “bad documents” that can be twisted to make something innocent sound nefarious.
Jonathan Rothwell, senior research analyst at the Brookings Institution, 10/3/11: “I suspect that when all the information finally comes out, there will be very little that is scandalous.”
“I suspect that when all the information finally comes out, there will be very little that is scandalous,” said Jonathan Rothwell, who has studied the Solyndra case as a senior research analyst at the Brookings Institution.
New York Times, 9/23/11: “No evidence has emerged that political favoritism played a role in what administration officials assert were merit-based decisions.”
The government’s backing of Solyndra, which could cost taxpayers more than a half-billion dollars, came as the politically well-connected business began an extensive lobbying campaign that appears to have blinded government officials to the company’s financial condition and the risks of the investment, according to a review of government documents and interviews with administration officials and industry analysts. While no evidence has emerged that political favoritism played a role in what administration officials assert were merit-based decisions, Solyndra drew plenty of high-level attention. Its lobbyists corresponded frequently and met at least three times with an aide to a top White House official, Valerie B. Jarrett, to push for loans, tax breaks and other government assistance.
Los Angeles Times, 9/15/11: “But the documents failed to produce any smoking guns in a brewing controversy …”
But the documents failed to produce any smoking guns in a brewing controversy that Republicans are using to try to discredit Obama’s push for additional stimulus spending in his new jobs bill. Though the documents indicated concerns about Solyndra’s financial prospects, they also showed that its application began moving forward during the Bush administration. The rush, in the summer of 2009, came after the Energy Department had approved the package and was awaiting a final estimate on its budgetary cost.
Time, Michael Grunwald, 9/3/11: “This is sure to play out as a scandal, but based on what we know so far, it shouldn’t be. Private loans go south all the time.”
This is sure to play out as a scandal, but based on what we know so far, it shouldn’t be. Private loans go south all the time. The federal loan guarantee program has budgeted $2.5 billion for failures like this; so far, the program has made about $30 billion worth of loans, and has leveraged another $20 billion in private financing. The Obama administration has made bets on hundreds of clean-energy companies in dozens of clean-energy sectors; some of those bets in its portfolio are bound to go bad, just as Richard Branson picks an occasional lemon. It’s legitimate to question whether the government should have made this particular bet, or whether it overplayed a weak hand, or whether it should be making bets in the first place. But if we’re going to have a clean energy industry in this country, this kind of thing is going to happen. It doesn’t mean anyone cheated.
In one way or another, all of these writers and newspapers are saying the same thing: Despite the fact that the Solyndra affair is “brewing” and “ballooning” and “playing out as a scandal,” the fact remains that no wrongdoing has been uncovered. The original loan was reviewed by multiple levels of professional DOE staff with no interference. After the loan had been approved, political representatives hassled DOE to finalize the paperwork so the White House could keep on schedule for an announcement. Then, in January 2011, DOE officials restructured the loan to give the company a fighting chanc
e, a restructuring that was approved by DOE lawyers and loan-guarantee officials and remains, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, perfectly legal.
That’s it: a much-hyped investment that went south. It’s perfectly possible to disagree that DOE should have had a loan-guarantee program at all, or that it should have supported Solyndra specifically. But that’s a policy disagreement. For all the hype, there’s been nothing improper or illegal uncovered, just a crappy and embarrassing set of circumstances.
Despite the palpable desperation of Republicans to create the atmosphere of scandal, there is in fact no scandal. As I said the other day, Solyndra is the optical illusion of a scandal. It will just drip along until the GOP has squeezed everything they can out of it. Then they’ll move on to something else, and Politico and Fox will follow them like kids running after a soccer ball.