The Republican senator known for weathering the 2007 D.C. Madam prostitution scandal has been gleefully partaking in the conservative pile-on over the White House’s support for the failed solar panel maker Solyndra. The company received a $535-million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy in 2009, which was backed by stimulus funds.
“We can’t afford any more crony capitalism where the federal government picks winners and losers and then leaves taxpayers on the hook when everything falls apart,” Vitter said in a statement released Wednesday as he introduced a new bill that would force all federal agencies that have given subsidies for green energy projects to be audited. Those that have “substantially failed to meet objectives,” would also be investigated under the plan.
But the record shows that Vitter, along with many other Republicans in the Senate and the House who have criticized the Obama administration for “picking winners and losers,” engage in the practice themselves. (It remains to be seen whether the administration did favor Solyndra over other companies’ loan guarantee applications as a result of its political connections to some of the company’s backers.)
For example, Vitter himself not once, not twice, but on no less than seven separate occasions in the last two years sought loan guarantees for projects in his state under the DOE’s Loan Program Office, the same one he’s now excoriating for the failure of Solyndra, according to the Associated Press and TIME Swampland.
As TIME’s Michael Grunwald points out:
For example, on July 1, 2009, Vitter and Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana wrote Energy Secretary Steven Chu to support a loan application by the V Vehicle Company, a clean-car start-up (backed by T. Boone Pickens and the venture capital leviathan Kleiner Perkins) that was planning a Louisiana factory. “This vehicle would serve as a catalyst for job creation,” they wrote. A year later, Vitter joined the entire Louisiana delegation in another letter pushing “expedited consideration” for VVC. Alas, the Energy Department rejected the loan, citing concerns about the company’s financial viability. Vitter must have been annoyed by all this due diligence, because in December 2010-after VVC changed its name to Next Autoworks-he, Landrieu and Congressman Rodney Alexander tried once more. “Every day that Next Autoworks’ application is delayed is another day that workers cannot be hired,” the wrote. So far, no luck.
No wonder Vitter’s angry: His cronies are losing!
“Vitter has also backed projects for nuclear power, renewable diesel fuel and a company that makes fuel-efficient cars,” the Associated Press adds.
In fact, both Republican House Energy & Commerce Committee leaders spearheading the charge into investigating the Administration’s role in making the half a billion dollar loan guarantee to Solyndra have both requested loan guarantees and sought stimulus funding for projects within their own districts.
For example, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), chairman of Energy & Commerce’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, has previously praised stimulus investments in green tech, as TPM’s Idea Lab has noted.
House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, (R-MI,) who’s also been focused on the Solyndra investigation and DOE’s loan guarantees program, has also supported them. As Stephen Lacey at Climate Progress notes, in 2007 Upton proposed adding billions more to a loan guarantee program to build nuclear power stations around the country.
And during the debate about the stimulus itself, Upton sought stimulus support for a clean energy company in Michigan that had sent in a loan application to DOE.
TPM’s Idea Lab has contacted both Upton and Vitter’s offices for clarification.
As for auditing? The DOE’s Inspector General Gregory Friedman has said his office already has 64 open investigations into stimulus spending projects.
Sarah Lai Stirland contributed to this report.