(NEW YORK) — The Obama campaign rolled out the red carpet this week for a former top Energy Department official who was at the center of the ill-fated government loan to Solyndra, a California solar panel firm that wound up in bankruptcy.
Steven J. Spinner joined other top fundraisers for a VIP tour of the Democratic National Convention floor in Charlotte, N.C., Monday evening, posing and waving for a photographer while standing behind the podium. When he saw ABC News cameras, however, he ran for the exit.
Spinner was last in the headlines in October, when emails surfaced showing he had pushed for the Solyndra loan from his post in the Energy Department, apparently in an effort to score the loan as a political victory for President Obama.
“How hard is this? What is he waiting for?” Spinner wrote in one of them. “I have OVP [the Office of the Vice President] and WH [the White House] breathing down my neck on this.”
The fast-tracked Solyndra loan became the showpiece of the Obama administration’s Green Energy loan program — a plan to give a jolt of federal aid to firms developing new forms of alternative energy. Solyndra, the program’s inaugural loan recipient, received $535 million.
But it fast became a symbol for Obama’s Republican opponents, who have characterized the loan as a boondoggle. The company’s bankruptcy led to a lengthy investigation by the Republican-led House Energy and Commerce Committee, which argued that the administration failed to heed warnings from budget analysts who believed the company was a bad bet.
White House officials have called the House investigation a waste of taxpayer money, noting that Republicans never uncovered any evidence to suggest the loan was granted as a result of political influence.
This week, Spinner has been attending a number of events organized for the campaign’s top donors — members of the National Finance Committee. He is sporting a badge that identifies him as a “Finance Guest.”
He appears also to be a top donor to the convention’s host committee, which accepts up to $100,000 from individuals to help offset the cost of the three-day Charlotte event. The host committee organized the podium tour that Spinner attended.
ABC News made repeated attempts to interview Spinner as the Solyndra saga unfolded, and he declined. When he was approached by ABC News on the convention floor Monday, he bolted for an exit.
A DNC employee blocked ABC News reporters from following Spinner as he broke into a run.
“You can’t follow people,” the aide said, as he held up his arms to keep the camera from filming Spinner as he left the venue.
Neither the Obama campaign nor the White House responded to requests for comment about Spinner.
This is not Spinner’s first foray into fundraising for Obama.
Spinner was awarded his high-ranking post with the Energy Department after raising more than $500,000 for Obama’s 2008 campaign, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
After taking the job, Spinner had to sign a waiver saying he would not get involved in deliberations involving Solyndra, because his wife’s law firm represented the company in certain legal matters. Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that Spinner “had no connection to overseeing the loan guarantee program.” Spinner’s wife also pledged not to take proceeds from her firm’s work with companies that had applied for loans, and a spokesperson for Allison Spinner’s firm said she had not been involved in any Solyndra business.
But when the White House turned over internal emails to Congress, the records showed that Steve Spinner figured prominently into the Energy Department’s efforts to promote the loan politically. When the loan was set to be announced, he pushed for a “big event” with “golden shovels, bulldozers, hardhats, etc.,” according to one email he wrote.
He also corresponded with career Department of Energy loan officials who were making the final decisions on the Solyndra loan. In one instance, he wrote, “Hopefully, this might spur [the Office of Management and Budget] a little faster to help the closing.”
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