George Kaiser denies lobbying White House for Solyndra
BY JIM MYERS World Washington Bureau
Wednesday, November 09, 2011
11/09/11 at 8:59 PM
Read previous stories about Solyndra.
WASHINGTON — Tulsa oilman and philanthropist George Kaiser told congressional committee staff that he never asked the White House to intervene on behalf of a solar-panel manufacturer that defaulted on a half-billion dollar government loan, key House Democrats said Wednesday.
“I never lobbied for Solyndra,’’ Kaiser reportedly said during a two-hour interview on Monday.
In that session with staff members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which for months has been investigating the Solyndra loan, Kaiser said he “regularly refused’’ such lobby requests.
He told the committee staff that he “didn’t want to talk to anyone in government about anything other than my charitable interests’’ to avoid discrediting his efforts.
Released by Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo., the comments attributed to Kaiser reportedly are the first such statements by him since the Solyndra controversy surfaced several months ago.
Waxman and DeGette pointed out that Kaiser said he did not even mention Solyndra when he sat next to President Obama at a two-hour fund-raising dinner on Oct. 22, 2010, in Las Vegas.
“In fact, he said he could recall only one time when he possibly mentioned Solyndra to White House officials,’’ Waxman and DeGette stated.
“This was the February 24, 2010, meeting with administration staff working on the stimulus.’’
The two Democrats say Kaiser’s account is consistent with communications provided to the committee as well as statements from administration officials.
Waxman and DeGette were responding to statements from two top Republicans on the House committee, Reps. Fred Upton, R-Mich., the panel’s chairman, and Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., chairman of the subcommittee heading the Solyndra probe.
Upton and Stearns, noting what they described as White House threats to defy the committee’s subpoena for documents related to Solyndra, released a “sampling of emails’’ to point out the close relationship between Kaiser, an Obama fundraiser whose foundation was a major investor in the firm, and the administration.
Citing previous statements from the administration, the two Republicans state that the emails also contradict claims that Kaiser never discussed the Solyndra loan.
“In light of the foregoing, the American people clearly deserve to know why they have lost over 500 million dollars as a result of the administration’s decision to proceed with the Solyndra loan guarantee and its restructuring,’’ the two men stated in a letter to White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler.
Emails released by Upton and Stearns include those that appear to be from Kaiser and Ken Levit of the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
Wording in the emails indicates that Solyndra was discussed by Kaiser and his associates, but discussion of the loan does not appear to be part of that discussion.
“To reaffirm our previous public statements, George Kaiser had no discussions with the government regarding the loan to Solyndra,’’ stated Renzi Stone, a spokesman for the Kaiser Foundation.
Dates of the emails released by the Republicans also appear to be significant.
“The loan approval was announced nearly a year before the emails about these meetings took place,’’ Stone said.
Waxman and DeGette criticized Upton and Stearns for the way they handled the emails.
They accused the two Republicans of using the emails to present a misleading and inaccurate account to the public, pointing to information they have that contradicts the released emails.
“This is wrong and an unfair smear of Mr. Kaiser,’’ Waxman and DeGette state.
The White House responded to Upton and Stearns’ release by saying none of the 85,000 pages of documents produced so far indicates any favoritism to political supporters.
“Even the documents cherry-picked by House Republicans today affirm what we have said all along: This loan was a decision made on the merits at the Department of Energy,’’ White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.
George Kaiser speaks in 2009. TOM GILBERT/Tulsa World file