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The Center for American Progress’s Crony Loan Conflict of Interest

The Nation looks into the Center for American Progress’s “dark money” and ties to First Solar:

Last year, when First Solar was taking a beating from congressional Republicans and in the press over job layoffs and alleged political cronyism, CAP’s Richard Caperton praised Antelope Valley in his testimony to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, saying it headed up his list of “innovative projects” receiving loan guarantees. Earlier, Caperton and Steve Spinner—
a top Obama fundraiser who left his job at the Energy Department monitoring the issuance of loan guarantees and became a CAP senior fellow—had written an article cross-posted on CAP’s website and its Think Progress blog, stating that Antelope Valley represented “the cutting edge of the clean energy economy.”

Though the think tank didn’t disclose it, First Solar belonged to CAP’s Business Alliance, a secret group of corporate donors, according to internal lists obtained by The Nation. Meanwhile, José Villarreal—a consultant at the power-
house law and lobbying firm Akin Gump, who “provides strategic counseling on a range of legal and policy issues” for 
corporations—was on First Solar’s board until April 2012 while also sitting on the board of CAP, where he remains a member, according to the group’s latest tax filing.

Read the whole thing, it’s a great illustration of why the Democratic party’s version of liberalism isn’t remotely opposed to big business. First Solar is an almost perfect case study in how it’s usually not thriving upstart companies that benefit from government favors, it’s flailing, politically-connected ones seeking to preserve their place in the market.

In the fall of 2011, First Solar finalized nearly $4 billion in loan guarantees fromt he Department of Energy, as part of a program enthusiastically endorsed by ThinkProgress and CAP’s other affiliates. They also received a $455.7 million loan guarantee from the Export-Import Bank to build plants in Canada.

As all this was happening, First Solar was beset by a number of threats to its business, mainly the introduction of more efficient Chinese and Canadian solar panels and diminished demand in Europe. In 2010 they had a net income of $664 million, and in 2011, a net loss of $39 million, in part because of a $215 million “manufacturing excursion” involving solar panels that failed at high temperatures. In 2012 it was one of the worst performing members of the S&P 500, despite a major cash infusion from the Walton family—heralded friends of labor and the environment, them—on New Year’s Eve 2011.

First Solar quickly sold three of the largest solar farms for which they received loan guarantees; Antelope Valley, Desert Sunlight, and Topaz Solar. In fact, the day after a $1.46 billion loan guarantee was approved in late September 2011 for Desert Sunlight, it was sold to NextEra Energy. It was dubbed 2011’s North American Solar Deal of the Year.

A GAO audit found that the DOE’s loan guarantee program had significant oversight problems.

The DOE estimates the project CAP’s Richard Caperton praised will create 20 permanent jobs.

Bill McMorris has more on CAP’s “Business Alliance.”

about the author

Arthur Bloom is the former editor of The American Conservative online. He was previously deputy editor of the Daily Caller and a columnist for the Catholic Herald. He holds masters degrees in urban planning and American studies from the University of Kansas. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Spectator (UK), The Guardian, Quillette, The American Spectator, Modern Age, and Tiny Mix Tapes.

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