The California solar company, Solyndra, heralded by the Obama administration as a prime example of how the Recovery Act created new jobs while promoting his vision of renewable energy, is closing their doors. Just over a year ago, Obama himself spoke at the facility, praising it as “a testament to American ingenuity and dynamism.” Once a beacon of solar light in the progressive green jobs agenda, Solyndra had received a $535 million federal loan with the help of newly minted energy secretary, Steven Chu, only to find themselves staring down bankruptcy and the release of more than 1,100 workers.
Lying within that massive federal loan was a number of sub-awards to other vendors, 40 payments of which were greater than $25,000 each. The largest sub-award went to another administration favorite, CH2M Hill, to the tune of $9.6 million for their construction engineering services. The company is a $6.3 billion consulting, engineering, and construction firm, and shares some similarities to the failed Solyndra. In fact, CH2M used the nearly $10 million sub-award to design Solyndra’s solar manufacturing plant in Fremont, California. Besides that amount, CH2M is also a major beneficiary of the stimulus, having been awarded four of the top ten contracts from stimulus funding last summer - to the tune of $1.2 billion. As of this April, the company boasts of $1.6 billion in contracts from the Recovery Act.
Perhaps even more apparent is another similarity to the Solyndra company – CH2M Hill’s decline in employment. Reports of layoffs at CH2M began in January when KEPR-TV announced that 1,350 layoffs were coming in September due to the end of stimulus funding. The company recently organized a job fair for those affected by these layoffs, and an additional 1,000 layoffs at the contractor’s Hanford reservation. The job fair comes exactly one year after it was revealed that the company was inflating jobs reports by using a metric known as ‘lives touched’.
How did companies such as Solyndra and CH2M Hill become such lucky recipients of taxpayer money through the stimulus? House Energy Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) is planning an investigation of White House dealings with the Solyndra loan, citing the administration’s monitoring of the application and loan process, along with the knowledge of a key investor for the company, George Kaiser. Kaiser is an Oklahoma billionaire, and was a major fundraiser for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008. The Kaiser connection even caught the eye of the Los Angeles Times when they asked the question point blank – “Is Obama using stimulus funds to reward his political contributors?”
Steering funds to benefit political allies may be another area in which CH2M resembles Solyndra. They don’t necessarily have a smoking gun contributor like Kaiser, but with nearly $2 billion in total contracts generated from stimulus funding, there should be some interest in the company’s finances.
During the 2009-2010 election cycle, CH2M contributed 60% of nearly $650,000 in campaign finances to Democrats. The top five total contributions were delivered to Democrats, including notable Obama allies such as Barbara Boxer ($21,250) and Harry Reid ($12,500). Year 2007-2008 also saw contributions in favor of the Democrats, with Senator Barack Obama himself receiving the most money at over $45,000.
But the company isn’t just a force for political contributions. Their monetary efforts show more muscle in the lobbying field than any other, something Obama once denigrated as a presidential nominee. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that CH2M was lobbying their special interests via $835,000 worth of itemized expenditures in 2010. One of the more prominent lobbyists CH2M has employed is Matthew Chiller, Senior Federal Affairs Director. Chiller, according to the National Journal, worked as Legislative Director on the staff of four different Democrats, while also serving on the recount committee in 2000 for former Vice-President, Al Gore. His skills can be seen in a CH2M PowerPoint presentation on how to secure state and federal funding, in which viewers are briefed in the alleged Constitutional right to spend via congressional earmarks, and given pointers on how to “work the earmark politically”.
In addition to all of this, former employees of CH2M have held, or will hold, plum appointments on administrative boards. Former CH2M Hill CTO, Dan Arvizu, is currently serving a six-year term on the National Science Board for the National Science Foundation. In 2009, Lee McIntire, current Chairman and CEO, was appointed by the Obama Administration to the U.S.-Brazil CEO Forum. In March, he joined the President on a trip to Latin America. And just recently in July, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Jack Baylis, former Senior Vice-President at CH2M, to the a administrative post on the National Infrastructure Advisory Council.
While White House officials have denied interjecting in deals for companies that have backed the President and his party - such as Solyndra and CH2M - questions remain as to why those most cozy with the administration have been reaping the benefits of the stimulus bill.
The answers are yet to come…
Rusty can be contacted via Twitter @rustyweiss74