Administration officials claim that staffers and advisers with venture capital ties had no input as to where funding was directed in regards to these companies. But e-mails released in a congressional probe of the president’s clean-tech program show that some of those staff and advisers did in fact informally advocate for some of those companies.
David Gold, a venture capitalist and critic of Obama’s investments in clean tech, said that even if staffers had been removed from the final decision-making, they had the kind of inside access to exert subtle influence.
“To believe those quiet conversations don’t happen in the hallways — about a project being in a certain congressman’s district or being associated with a significant presidential donor, is naive,” said Gold, who once worked at the Office of Management and Budget. “When you’re putting this kind of pressure on an organization to make decisions on very big dollars, there’s increased likelihood that political connections will influence things.”
In 2008 Sanjay Wagle, a venture capitalist and Barack Obama fundraiser, was head of a group known as “Clean Tech for Obama”.
Shortly after Obama’s election, he left his California firm to join the Energy Department, just as the administration started up it’s massive program to stimulate the economy with federal investments in clean-technology firms.
During the next three years, the department provided $2.4 billion in public funding to clean-energy companies in which Wagle’s former firm, Vantage Point Venture Partners, had invested.
Wagle was one of several players in venture capital who was providing financial backing to start-up clean-tech companies, then moved into the Energy Department at the same time their industry had a huge stake in decisions about which companies would receive government loans, grants and support.
David Danielson, formerly of General Catalyst, joined an Energy Department office which was in charge of funding breakthrough energy technologies. Three General Catalyst portfolio firms received %105 million in funding.
David Sandalow, a former Clinton administration official and Brookings Institution fellow, was paid $239,000 for consulting work for a venture capital firm, Good Energies, in 2008 before joining the Energy Department as assistant secretary for policy and international affairs. A Good Energies-backed firm, SolarReserve, won a $737 million agency loan.
Thousands of agency and White House e-mails released as part of the Solyndra investigation show that venture capitalists who held advisory roles with the Energy Department were given access to Obama’s top advisers.