Having friends in Washington is one of the quickest and dirtiest paths to success, but when President Barack Obama is the one helping you out by discriminately favoring your company's products over others, very few in the media seem to care.
Flashback to the early 2000s during former President George Bush's first term. The mainstream media pounced on former Vice President Dick Cheney's association with Halliburton, an oil company for which Cheney once served as CEO. The Bush administration supposedly favored Halliburton by rewarding the company with a number of multi-million dollar oil contracts in the Middle East, purportedly only using a bidding process to make the game look fairer.
Today it's a different fuel and a different president, but Obama has an almost identical story: favoring the clean-technology companies of his financial supporters through rewards of federal money. This time around, though, the media is giving his shady dealings a free pass.
Since March of 2009, Obama has spent over half of his out-of-town business trips visiting 22 different clean-tech projects with a $90 billion stimulus check to promote the clean-tech companies of his choosing. Superficially, Obama looks like he's supporting an industry he champions as the next big thing and a creator of an entirely new sector of jobs.
Hiding behind the curtain is a different story, though. The focus of his clean-tech trips has been to support ventures backed by his donors. The projects not only receive free publicity from Obama's visits, but also huge sums of federal money to support their success. As the Washington Post explains,
The most attention has focused on Solyndra, a Silicon Valley solar company that ran into financial trouble after receiving a $535 million federal loan guarantee commitment.
Some of the biggest investors in Solyndra, which makes easy-to-install solar panels, were venture capital funds associated with Tulsa billionaire George Kaiser, a key Obama fundraiser. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on oversight and investigations, said he is "concerned that there was a hurry to get this money out of the door and that companies and individuals that supported the president were among the beneficiaries."
Much like Halliburton, which supposedly gouged oil prices, making it an illogical choice as the best oil company to federally support, Solyndra is far from being the most efficient solar company in the market.
Solar analyst Ramesh Misra, who works for the investment firm Brigantine Advisors, was skeptical about Solyndra's signature product. Its solar panels are composed of an array of glass tubes that are expensive to produce, causing investment advisers to question whether the product could compete with less-expensive Chinese models. Misra, who has no financial interest in Solyndra or its rivals, questioned the administration's decision.
"To think they could compete on any basis, that took a very big leap of faith," Misra said.
Solyndra is not the lone example, either. Most of the clean-tech companies Obama has visited over the past two years share some connection to his 2008 presidential campaign.
Over the months, Obama touted a Florida's utility's electric grid project (a company in an Obama fundraiser's portfolio was doing extensive business with the project) and a Nevada company that generates emission-free power from waste heat, the warmth radiated by machines or industrial processes (an Obama fundraiser is a partner in a venture fund that has a small stake in the company).
While Obama is no champion of the free market, his actions epitomize the opposite, rewarding a select few companies that will benefit his success in office, and put all other competitors at an extreme disadvantage.
American taxpayers are being used to fund the high-flying ventures of Democratic donors. If the projects fail (and they are failing left and right) we lose. If they succeed (at least for a short-time) by going public, private investors (those Obama donors) win big. Taxpayers do not see any return.
The game has been rigged by Obama and his fellow Democrats. "Clean" indeed in two meanings of the word. The donor money is being returned to them multiplied by Obama's sending taxpayer dollars back to them. And we, the American taxpayers, are being taken to the cleaners.
Other companies, including battery-producing Celgard and lightbulb-producing Orion Energy Systems, were also buoyed by Obama visits. Celgard has pictures from Obama's visit hanging in its hallways, while Orion is held largely in investments by John Rogers Jr., a friend and fundraiser for Obama.
Competitors dream of the same kind of exposure a presidential visit brings. From the Post,
Mark Eubanks, president of Cooper Lighting in Atlanta, estimated that his company sells six times more energy-efficient lighting than Orion, but it is based in a Republican stronghold.
"We'd be happy to host the president," Eubanks said. He added that he's not expecting the phone to ring anytime soon.
So far, the Post is the only mainstream media outlet to cover this story. The complaints of having friends in the government ever present in the association of the Bush administration with oil companies seem to have all but vanished in covering Obama's campaign connections with his carefully supported clean-technology companies.