Wagle was a venture capitalist and Barack Obama fundraiser in
2008, rallying support through
a group he headed known as Clean
Tech for Obama.
after Obama’s election, he left his California firm to join the
Energy Department, just as the administrationembarked
on a massive program to stimulate the
economy with federal investments in clean-technology firms.
an enduring Washington tradition, Wagle shifted from the private
sector, where his firm hoped to profit from federal investments,
insider’s seat in the administration’s
$80 billion clean-energy investment program.
was one of several players in venture capital, which was
providing financial backing to start-up clean-tech companies,
who moved into the Energy Department at a time when the agency
was seeking outside expertise in the field. At the same time,
their industry had a huge stake in decisions about which
companies would receive government loans, grants and support.
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, a Washington Post
analysis found. Overall, the Post found that $3.9 billion
in federal grants and financing flowed to 21 companies backed by
firms with connections to five Obama administration staffers and
program to invest federal funds in start-up companies — and the
failure of some of those companies — isbecoming
a rallying cry for opponents in the
presidential race. Mitt Romney has promised to focus on Obama’s
“record” as a “venture capitalist.” And in ads and speeches,
conservative groups and the Republican candidates are zeroing in
on the administration’s decision to extend $535 million to
the now-shuttered solar
firm Solyndra and billions of dollars
more to clean-tech start-ups backed by the president’s political
House officials stress that staffers and advisers with venture
capital ties did not make funding decisions related to these
companies. But e-mails released in a congressional probe of
Obama’s clean-tech program show that staff and advisers with
links to venture firms informally advocated for some of those
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.
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
Department spokesman Damien LaVera said the companies won awards
based on merit, not political connections. He said the staffers
and advisory board members reviewed by the Post had no role in
funding decisions, nor did they have any personal financial
stake in the companies. One of those administration advisers had
first been appointed to his position by the Bush administration,
is evident from the 10-month
long congressional investigation into
Solyndra, Energy Department loans and grants are decided on the
merits,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. “What’s more,
these are all professionals with expertise in clean-energy
science, finance or both — but none of them play a decisional
role in DOE awards and none of them are in positions of
regulating the industry.”
the 2008 campaign, the venture
capital industry lined up behind Obama as
he vowed to spur clean-technology development. Obama raised more
than twice the venture capital contributions of his opponent,
Republican candidate John McCain.
for making billions of dollars in the 1990s on Internet
startups, venture firms in 2006 were rapidly switching to invest
in clean tech. Legendary venture partner John Doerr, a leading
early investor in Google and Amazon, that year called the
clean-energy sector the next great profit center, “the
mother of all markets.”
the 2008 economic crisis, new private investment in fledgling
clean-tech companies withered. But passage of the
$787 billion stimulus
package offered new opportunities to
launch and grow those firms, with $80 billion set aside for
clean energy and energy-efficiency efforts.
flush with cash, the Energy Department was under orders to ramp
up quickly and get money out to promising companies. The
industry players to take on key Energy
Department roles, both as agency staffers and outside advisers
on agency boards.
then 38, took
a job as a stimulus adviser in the
agency’s recovery act office. Officials say his role did not
involve making funding decisions for companies tied to Vantage
investors cheered the administration for hiring industry
colleagues. In a 2009 article, venture firm leader Jim Matheson
said Wagle, along with another Washington-bound venture
Danielson, would help ensure commercial successes from
“the steady flow of dollars coming out of D.C.”
former employer had invested in several companies that received
federal money: Brightsource,
which won a $1.6 billion federal loan for a
solar-generating plant; Tesla Motors, which won a
$465 million loan to build electric cars; and biofuels firm
Mascoma, which in 2011 received $80 million for a Michigan
recently returned to the California venture capital industry to
work as an investor and clean-tech adviser. Reached at his home,
he declined to comment. Vantage Point Venture Partners, renamed
Vantage Point Capital Partners, did not respond to requests for
formerly of General
Catalyst, joined an Energy Department office whose mission
was to fund breakthrough energy technologies. Officials say he
had no role in arranging $105 million in funding for three
General Catalyst portfolio firms.
Sandalow, a former Clinton administration official and
Brookings Institution fellow, had been 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, his disclosure form shows.
Good Energies-backed firm, SolarReserve, won
a $737 million agency loan. Officials say Sandalow played
no role in arranging it and LaVera, speaking on behalf of
Sandalow, said the assistant secretary had no financial interest
in Good Energies or SolarReserve.
Energy Department came under criticism from Republicans earlier
this year when agency e-mails raised questions about a possible
conflict of interest involving Steven J. Spinner, a former
department loan adviser who disclosed that his wife worked for
Wilson Sonsini, a Silicon Valley law firm that handled funding
applications for several clean-tech companies.
Sonsini’s clean-tech clients reaped
$2.75 billion in Department of Energy grants and financing,
the Post analysis found.
of the firm’s clients was Solyndra. Republicans have accused the
Obama administration of favoring the risky company because its
leading investor was tied to a major Obama donor.
Sonsini had its own connection to the White House: the firm’s
chief executive, John Roos, was a top bundler for
Obama’s 2008 campaign.
joining the administration, Spinner, a venture investor and
start-up adviser, also helped raise $500,000 for Obama as a
member of his national campaign finance committee. He has
pledged to raise a half-million dollars or more for Obama’s
inside the agency, Spinner agreed not to discuss loan matters
involving Wilson Sonsini clients. But e-mails show he urged
career officials to resolve delays in the Solyndra loan, and
the financial prospects of Solyndra to a
White House deputy before its federal loan was approved.
left the Energy Department in the fall of 2010. He did not
respond to requests for comment. The department said Spinner was
not involved in the company’s application review or loan
Wilson Sonsini spokesman said the firm does not believe its
employment of Spinner’s wife influenced Energy Department
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.
Westly, an Obama fundraising bundler for both his 2008 and 2012
campaigns, is a founder of the venture firm Westly Group and
served part time on Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s advisory
e-mails show that Westly
communicated with senior White House
officials, including Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, voicing
concerns about the president’s planned appearance at Solyndra.
firm also fared well in the agency’s distribution of loans and
grants. Its portfolio companies received $600 million in
funding. LaVera said Westly had no role in the funding
Prend also surfaces in the e-mails as a
venture capital investor who had White House access.
Capital Partners in Boston, was among
the investors in Solyndra, with a 7.5 percent stake. The e-mails
show him asking a White House aide to
“help get the word out” about Solyndra and asking for help on
another Rockport portfolio company. They show he and a group of
venture capital investors met with new White House climate czar Carol
Browner before Solyndra’s loan was
tenatively approved, and the White House confirmed that the
subject of the company came up briefly.
had worked closely with the Energy Department since the Bush
administration, when he was first appointed to an advisory panel
for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. He continued to
advise the Obama administration, while also chairing a panel
that helps advise the department on solar technologies.
agency provided $550 million to several firms in which
Rockport had invested at the time. The department gave an
additional $118 million grant to an electric-car battery
company, Ener1, that was partnered with Rockport portfolio car
company Think. (Rockport soon after invested in Ener1.) Ener1
filed for bankruptcy protection last
and Chad Kolton, a Rockport spokesman, said that Prend’s
advisory role was separate from stimulus programs and had no
bearing on agency decisions about companies backed by Rockport.
editor Alice Crites contributed to this story.