Hillary Clinton’s claim that she is not beholden to her wealthy donors will come under renewed scrutiny Friday when the Democratic front-runner raises fresh cash for her presidential bid at the home of George Kaiser, a billionaire whose firm was the biggest investor in the troubled Solyndra stimulus project — and who managed to walk away with a lucrative profit at the expense of taxpayers.
Mrs. Clinton will make a stop at the Tulsa, Oklahoma, home of Mr. Kaiser on Friday afternoon, just days after the former secretary of state rolled out policy proposals aimed at stopping powerful corporations from taking advantage of American taxpayers.
Unanswered questions also are swirling around the Clinton Foundation and whether foreign donors contributed money to the foundation in exchange for influence while Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state.
Mr. Kaiser, a noted philanthropist and businessman with an estimated net worth of nearly $10 billion, was a major campaign bundler and fundraiser for Barack Obama during the 2008 election cycle and a frequent visitor to the White House after he became president.
He also is the founder of Argonaut Private Equity, the largest private investor in Solyndra, a California-based solar panel maker that won more than $530 million in federally backed loans under Mr. Obama’s 2009 stimulus program.
The company went bankrupt in 2011 and was unable to repay the loan, leaving taxpayers on the hook.
In the process, it became what critics said was misguided and politically motivated spending under Mr. Obama’s $787 billion stimulus, which was designed to get the recession-wracked economy moving again.
Despite Solyndra’s failure, Argonaut — which poured more than $270 million in equity into the project, according to Fortune magazine — and other private investors had secured a deal that guaranteed they would benefit from millions of dollars in future tax breaks if the solar company went bankrupt.
The arrangement allowed Argonaut to use Solyndra’s “net operating losses” to reduce its own future taxable income. At the same time, the U.S. Treasury was left holding the tab for nearly the entire $535 million original loan.
The terms were so generous that congressional Republicans launched a probe, arguing that Mr. Kaiser’s money and connections earned him special treatment.
The Clinton campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment about Mr. Kaiser and the fundraiser, but her website lists it as a two-hour affair. Guests are requested to give the $2,700 maximum donation in exchange for a “photo with Hillary.”
The fundraiser is sold out, and there was even a waiting list for eager donors, according to the campaign website.
“It’s truly rich. This is the way things are nowadays. The more government is involved in things, the more largesse they can bestow on their friends,” said Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the conservative Institute for Energy Research. “[Mrs. Clinton] is tied up with people who made out like bandits when Solyndra went down and the taxpayers ended up paying for it. It’s really sad, to be honest with you.”
Argonaut did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Mr. Kaiser’s George Kaiser Family Foundation. Mr. Kaiser, through a spokesman, previously has denied lobbying the federal government for anything related to the Solyndra project.
News reports from 2011 and 2012, however, documented at least 16 visits by Mr. Kaiser to the White House during the time the Solyndra project was underway and found extensive contacts between administration officials and Mr. Kaiser’s associates.
In 2011 court documents filed by the IRS and the Energy Department, the Obama administration estimated that Argonaut could get as much as $350 million in future tax breaks from Solyndra’s net operating losses, though it’s unclear how much the firm ultimately received or how much the company has financially benefited over the past several years.
Friday’s fundraiser could renew criticism Mrs. Clinton has faced from progressive activists over her ties to major donors and Wall Street interests. The activists fear she is too closely tied to the wealthy and powerful to be an effective advocate for the middle class.
In an effort to counter that narrative, Mrs. Clinton in recent weeks has focused intensely on issues such as income equality and the power of corporations. This week, she proposed steps to stop “inversions,” in which American companies engineer deals to be bought by overseas entities to escape high U.S. corporate tax rates.
“Now I am passionate about this, because the maneuvers that powerful corporations are using to game the system and leave everybody else holding the bag are just offensive to me,” she said this week during a speech in Waterloo, Iowa.
Inversions, she said, allow a foreign company to “avoid paying its fair share of taxes.”
“Fundamentally, this is not only about fairness; this is about patriotism. If you have benefited from American tax dollars and have flourished because of all the things that make America great, you should pay what you owe just like everybody else,” she said.
Although the Energy Department would not comment on Solyndra on Thursday, it pointed to an August report by the department’s inspector general that found Solyndra misled investors, including the federal government, and that the administration failed to ask enough questions.
“In our view, the investigative record suggests that the actions of certain Solyndra officials were, at best, reckless and irresponsible or, at worst, an orchestrated effort to knowingly and intentionally deceive and mislead the department,” the report reads in part. “We also found that the department’s due diligence efforts were less than fully effective.”
• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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