Solyndra and the GOP

Democrats aren't the only ones entangled in the green energy boondoggle


Republicans have been celebrating the bankruptcy of taxpayer-funded solar energy company Solyndra as a scandal that will taint the Obama administration and its "green jobs" push. But it's not just Democrats who are entangled in this one.

Solyndra's director of government relations since October 2010 was Victoria Sanville. According to her Linked In profile, she had spent the previous seven years working as a congressional staffer for three Republican congressmen, John Sweeney, Peter Roskam, and Michael Graves.

Another Washington-based Solyndra government-relations professional was Joseph Pasetti; his Capitol Hill experience came as an aide in the office of Alfonse D'Amato, a Republican senator from New York.

Solyndra's registered outside lobbyists at the Glover Park Group included Alex Mistri, who worked from 2005 to 2008 as special assistant to President George W. Bush, a Republican. Before that, he was chief of staff to congressman Bill Shuster, a Republican.

In 2010 and 2011, according to Senate lobbying records, Solyndra spent $130,000 on lobbyists at the Washington Tax Group LLC. Solyndra's lobbyists there included Greg Nickerson, a former aide to Republican congressmen Bill Thomas and Jim McCrery. Mr. Nickerson "served on the Delegate and Caucus Team at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York and worked as an attorney advisor to the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the 2004 and 2006 elections," according to his biography on his lobbying firm web site. Also on the Solyndra account at Washington Tax Group LLC was Jan Fowler, whose Capitol Hill experience came as an aide to another Republican, Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio.

One of Solyndra's lawyers or restructuring advisers is reportedly William Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, a Republican.

And let's not forget that the $535 million federal loan guarantee Solyndra was eventually granted by President Obama's energy department was made under the authority not only of the Obama stimulus bill but also a program established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, signed into law by President George W. Bush, a Republican. The final Senate vote on that bill was 74-26, with the 26 senators opposed consisting of a mere 6 Republicans.

One of the leading Republican candidates for president this time around, the former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, has a jobs plan that supports funding for an Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA-E) within the Department of Energy, which was originally funded by the Obama stimulus. "As president, Mitt Romney will redirect clean energy spending towards basic research," the Romney plan says. "Mitt Romney believes the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) model—ensuring long-term, non-political sources of funding for a wide variety of competing, early-stage technologies—holds the most potential for achieving signifcant advances in the energy sector. Investment should be channeled through programs, such as 'ARPA-E,' that seek to replicate DARPA's success in energy-related fields"

In other words, rather than simply attacking the Democrats for shoveling taxpayer money into a solar energy company that eventually failed, the Republicans might ask themselves how so many of their own former public servants wound up on the company's payroll, and why so many of their own senators and President Bush backed the law that created the loan guarantee program.

No one has accused the Republicans named above of any wrongdoing in this Solyndra situation, which has featured reports of FBI raids and company officials taking advantage of their Fifth Amendment rights. But as so often in Washington, Kinsley's Law applies—the scandal in Washington is not what's illegal, it's what's legal. The best way to clean up this one, and so many others, would be for Washington to tax and spend less. Then there'd be less money for the politicians and their former aides-turned-lobbyists to dole out, regardless of what political party they belong to.

Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of Samuel Adams: A Life.