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The next fake solar scandal

September 29, 2011: 3:26 PM ET

Obama critics think they've found another solar scandal. They're wrong. 

Matt Drudge seems to think he has found the next solar scandal to chip away at President Obama's poll numbers:

The link is to a blog post in The Weekly Standard, about a recent loan $737 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy to a solar energy company called SolarReserve. More specifically, the post insinuates that DoE approved the loan because Ronald Pelosi, brother-in-law of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, is "number two" at an investment firm that has an interest in SolarReserve.

It is true that Ronald Pelosi is an executive at Pacific Corporate Group, one of the private equity firms that has plugged more than $100 million into SolarReserve. But it is patently false that he will benefit from the loan (as Drudge asserts, although Weekly Standard only implies).

Ronald Pelosi joined PCG this past spring, whereas the firm first invested in SolarReserve three years ago. More importantly, Ronald Pelosi does not have a financial interest in the fund that houses SolarReserve. If the fund generates big profits on its investment, Pelosi gets nothing. If the fund's investment gets wiped out, Pelosi's bank account won't take a hit.

Moreover, a PCG spokesman insists that no member of the firm had any contact with the White House about the SolarReserve loan.

Ronald Pelosi's political contacts may have been a reason why he was hired by PCG, but not from a federal perspective. The firm has been indirectly caught up in a California pay-to-play scandal, which resulted in it getting fired last fall by the state's largest pension fund. If Pelosi is supposed to get PCG back in political good graces, it's a local issue.

Actually, take a hard look at that link I just shared about PCG getting fired by CalPERS. Notice the part where I say that CalPERS had put another firm in charge of the cleantech assets it had originally hired PCG to manage? SolarReserve is one of those assets.

PCG raised a total of $600 million to invest in cleantech: $400 million from CalPERS and $200 million from other investors. PCG only still manages that last $200 million, which basically means its upside (or downside) on SolarReserve is just one-third of what it once was. And, again, Pelosi gets none of it.

All of that said, it seems Drudge and Weekly Standard missed an actual connection between DoE and SolarReserve: Richard Kauffman, the former CEO of venture firm Good Energies -- also a SolarReserve investor -- who recently joined DoE as a senior advisor.

I do not yet know if Kauffman rescinded his financial interest in Good Energies upon taking the DoE job (they are checking for me), nor if he had any input in the approval of the SolarReserve loan guarantee. And, to be clear, SolarReserve is a better bet than a manufacturing company like Solyndra, since it's a power generation company that has contractual offsets.

But, like with Solyndra, we wait and see. In neither case have we yet found evidence of actual scandal. Just a lot of  people shouting the word...

Update: As of 4:20pm, Drudge has pulled the story entirely from his site.

Update II: DoE spokesman Damien LaVera: "Mr. Kauffman has no financial interest in Good Energies, nor did he have any role in the approval of the SolarReserve loan."

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About This Author
Dan Primack
Dan Primack
Senior Editor, Fortune

Dan Primack joined Fortune.com in September 2010 to cover deals and dealmakers, from Wall Street to Sand Hill Road. Previously, Dan was an editor-at-large with Thomson Reuters, where he launched both peHUB.com and the peHUB Wire email service. In a past journalistic life, Dan ran a community paper in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He currently lives just outside of Boston.

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