Solyndra: Peeling Back the Layers

As I noted previously, the story of the taxpayers’ failed $535 million subsidy to the Solyndra company just keeps building as reporters keep digging. When the Democrats on the House and Energy Commerce Committee released selected emails from the Obama administration, I asked one reporter:

If OMB and Obama’s California campaign co-chair, the former California state treasurer, were trying to put the brakes on the Solyndra enthusiasm, who had his foot on the gas?

Could the answer have been merely Steven J. Spinner, “a senior Energy Department adviser … a major fundraiser for President Obama and a Silicon Valley investor tasked with helping the government invest in clean-technology companies [who] had an ethical conflict: His wife worked for Wilson Sonsini, a California law firm that represented Solyndra, the solar-panel maker, in its applications for the government loan”? Spinner is now a senior fellow at the Obama-adjunct Center for American Progress, where as recently as July he was writing, “Even the most controversial loan guarantee recipient—Solyndra, a solar manufacturer—is seeing an operational turnaround” in an article pushing for continued funding of the Department of Energy’s Loan Guarantee Program. But he’s not the sole source of the enthusiasm for “green energy” and stimulus spending, which obviously went to the top of the administration.

Some have tried to dismiss the Solyndra story. Private investors make plenty of mistakes, too, they point out. Companies fail, sometimes through no fault of their own. But this story has all the hallmarks of government decision making: officials spending other people’s money with little incentive to spend it prudently, political pressure to make decisions without proper vetting, the substitution of political judgment for the judgments of millions of investors, the enthusiastic embrace of fads like “green energy,” political officials ignoring warnings from civil servants, crony capitalism, close connections between politicians and the companies that benefit from government allocation of capital, the appearance — at least — of favors for political supporters, and the kind of promiscuous spending that has delivered us $14 trillion in national debt. It may end up being a case study in political economy.

Here’s an updated rundown of how the first rough draft of Solyndra history is playing out before our eyes:

Obama-backed green firm shuts down
The Washington Post, September 1, 2011

Solar firm to cease operations; Solyndra had received a $535-million loan guarantee. It plans to seek Chapter 11.
Los Angeles Times, September 1, 2011

A Third Solar Company Files for Bankruptcy
The New York Times, September 7, 2011

FBI raids offices of solar-panel firm
The Washington Post, September 9, 2011

E-mails cite rush on loan to solar firm
The Washington Post, September 14, 2011

Treasury to probe loan to Solyndra; The Federal Financing Bank’s role in the failed firm’s borrowing will be the focus.
Los Angeles Times, September 16, 2011

White House official: Funding Solyndra further was risky
The Washington Post, September 16, 2011

Amid Solyndra probe, Energy Dept. moving billions in loans
The Washington Post, September 17, 2011

SOLAR FIRM’S OBAMA LINKS PROBED; A fundraiser’s role in a loan program that aided Solyndra stokes concern about the company’s influence.
Los Angeles Times, September 17, 2011

Questions Raised Over Letting Another Lender Help a Failing Solar Company
The New York Times, September 17, 2011

Justice Dept. urged to probe Solyndra
The Washington Post, September 20, 2011

Solyndra officials to invoke Fifth before House panel
The Washington Post, September 21, 2011

Solyndra’s ex-employees tell of high spending, factory woes
The Washington Post, September 22, 2011

In Rush To Assist A Solar Company, U.S. Missed Signs
The New York Times, September 23, 2011

Government OKs new green loans; Two execs of bankrupt solar firm Solyndra plead the 5th before a congressional panel.
Los Angeles Times, September 24, 2011

A solar pariah had Republican parents, too
The Washington Post, September 27, 2011

Where Solyndra said yes, others demurred
The Washington Post, September 27, 2011

Obama aides voiced doubts about loans like Solyndra’s; A top concern was that the vetting process wasn’t rigorous enough.
Los Angeles Times, September 27, 2011

Energy Dept. knew Solyndra had violated its loan terms
The Washington Post, September 29, 2011

U.S. Backs New Loans For Projects On Energy
The New York Times, September 29, 2011

Energy chief cleared Solyndra loan breaks
The Washington Post, September 30, 2011

Trustee Is Sought For Records Of Solyndra
The New York Times, October 1, 2011

E-mails warned Obama of a shaky Solyndra
The Washington Post, October 4, 2011

E-Mails Suggest White House Weighed a 2nd Solyndra Loan Worth Almost Half a Billion Dollars
The New York Times, October 6, 2011

Solyndra loan deal: Warning about legality came from within Obama administration
The Washington Post, October 7, 2011

Obama fundraiser took active interest in Solyndra loan, emails show
Los Angeles Times, October 8, 2011

Government adviser defends Solyndra despite ethics agreement
Washington Post, October 8, 2011

Solyndra Collapse Sparks K Street Rush
Roll Call, October 12, 2011

I found these headlines on Nexis, but of course they can be found on the newspapers’ websites.