Why BrightSource is different than SolyndraJune 13, 2012: 4:23 PM ET
FORTUNE -- House Republicans reportedly are delving deeper into the Department of Energy loan guarantee for BrightSource Energy, following a recent WSJ article on the solar company's pre-loan lobbying efforts (including by a former chief of staff to Vice President Biden). In other words, did BrightSource get its money honestly, or did it engage in crony capitalism?
To be clear, I think such questions should be asked. BrightSource received $1.6 billion in taxpayer-funded loans, and it is Congress' responsibility to investigate any alleged improprieties. Same sentiment I had toward Solyndra – except for my disgust with politicians alleging (and continuing to allege) wrongdoing when none was actually found.
But two important points as this moves forward:
1. BrightSource is not Solyndra. The biggest difference is that BrightSource is still in business, and the DoE money continues to be used to build a giant solar power plant in the Mojave Desert. Certainly the company has had its share of problems, including a failed IPO, but there is still a chance of success thanks to a large existing purchase order from PG&E (PGC) and the lingering rumor that French strategic partner/investor Alstom may be interested in buying BrightSource outright.
2. Different politics. BrightSource does not have a major Obama campaign bundler as its lead outside investor (neither did Solyndra, technically, but work with me on this). In fact, it's kind of the opposite.
BrightSource's largest investor is VantagePoint Venture Partners, which happens to have its own political action committee. The majority of VantagePoint PAC's contributions have gone to Republican candidates, including Mitt Romney and House Speaker John Boehner.
So if Obama allegedly pushed Solyndra's loan because it helped out a nonprofit foundation affiliated with an Obama contributor, does that mean he also went out of his way to help out a Romney supporter? Or is it simply that the guilt by association argument was always a slippery slope that opened its advocates up to future charges of grandstanding? And, remember, there were Republicans who worked on behalf of Solyndra -- including William Weld -- so it's going to be very difficult for Rep. Issa and company to thread the Brightsource needle. Unless, of course, this time they have actual evidence of wrongdoing.
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