Lawmakers want to question Solyndra investors about its collapse
Two House Democrats said Monday that they want to question investors in controversial solar panel manufacturer Solyndra Inc. about the company's failure.
Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) wrote to the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce investigative subcommittee and asked that executives from two of Solyndra's largest private investors, Argonaut Private Equity and Madrone Capital Partners, be called to testify at a Friday hearing on the Fremont company or at a future one.
Solyndra Chief Executive Brian Harrison and Chief Financial Officer W.G. Stover Jr. are expected to testify Friday about the failure of the company, which received a $535-million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy in 2009 as part of the Obama administration's economic stimulus plan.
Solyndra filed for bankruptcy this month, igniting a political controversy because President Obama had touted the company as an example of a successful alternative-energy manufacturer.
Republicans charged at a hearing last week that the Obama administration rushed approval of the loan, putting taxpayer money at risk. They also said that the loan approval might have been influenced by large investments in the company by billionaire George Kaiser.
Kaiser was a major Obama fundraiser in 2008, and Argonaut is an investment fund operated on behalf of the George Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser has denied personally investing in Solyndra or talking to White House officials about the loan.
Another Obama fundraiser, Steve Spinner, helped monitor the Energy Department's loan program for renewable energy projects. But administration officials said Spinner did not have a role in selecting applicants for the program and was recused from the Solyndra decision because his wife's law firm represented the company.
"One important question for the committee to examine is whether there were sound reasons to make an investment in Solyndra," Waxman and DeGette wrote to Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.). "Some sophisticated and experienced private venture capital investors thought the answer was yes, and they invested over $1 billion in Solyndra -– twice the support provided by the federal government."
Stearns' office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Waxman and DeGette specifically asked for testimony from Steve Mitchell, Argonaut's managing director, and Jameson McJunkin, Madrone's founder and general partner. Both served on Solyndra's board and could provide "perspective on why Solyndra attracted so much private capital, Solyndra’s representations about its economic prospects, and the external factors that have been affecting the U.S. solar industry."
Madrone is linked to the Walton family, founders of Wal-Mart and large Republican donors. Argonaut invested $271 million in Solyndra, by far the largest private investor, according to the Department of Energy. GKFF Investment Co., also a vehicle of the Kaiser foundation, invested an additional $50 million. Madrone invested $37 million.
-- Jim Puzzanghera
Photo: Solyndra Inc.'s Fremont headquarters. Credit: Associated Press