Solyndra LLC, the solar-panel maker that collapsed after getting a U.S. loan guarantee, hired a Washington lobbying firm weeks before its bankruptcy in what may have been a last-ditch effort to sway U.S. lawmakers investigating the company.
The Glover Park Group LLC did $20,000 of work for Solyndra after registering as its lobbyist in July, according to documents filed yesterday. Solyndra never paid the firm, according to Joel Johnson, a Glover Park managing director.
Solyndra, which received a $535 million loan guarantee from the Energy Department in 2009, filed for bankruptcy protection on Sept. 6.
“They were struggling to stay alive,” said Craig Holman, who tracks lobbying for Public Citizen, a non-profit advocacy group based in Washington. “This is where lobbyists come into play.”
Glover Park was the sixth lobbyist hired by Fremont, California-based Solyndra to lobby on its behalf since 2009. The company spent at least $1.3 million on issues relating to its loan guarantee and policies promoting solar power, including $480,000 in the first half of this year, according to the disclosure records.
Glover Park’s Catharine Cyr Ransom and Gregg Rothschild helped to introduce Solyndra executives to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which had been investigating the company since February, according to the filing with the Senate.
Rothschild is a former Democratic counsel for the House energy panel. Ransom is a former climate and environment aide to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat.
Johnson, the managing director, said Glover isn’t seeking compensation from Solyndra. Public-disclosure rules require the firm to report its expenses, represented by the $20,000, he said in an interview.
Records show Solyndra terminated the contract with Glover Park on Aug. 19, 12 days before the company shut its doors.
Republicans and Democrats on the energy committee have criticized Solyndra Chief Executive Officer Brian Harrison for presenting an optimistic picture of the company’s financial health in meetings with them in July.
Glover Park helped Harrison convey a similar message to the public, hosting a press conference for him at its Washington offices on July 21. “We’re growing, doubling in size year-over- year, and on track,” Harrison told reporters.
Harrison invoked his Fifth Amendment rights under the Constitution not to make self-incriminating statements and refused to answer questions about the loan guarantee at a Sept. 23 House hearing. He resigned as CEO this month.
Solyndra is the subject of an FBI investigation into whether it misrepresented its finances to the Energy Department as part of its loan application. The company has denied any wrongdoing.
In its final month, Solyndra also sought to restructure loan terms with the Energy Department. The department, which had approved new terms in February that put taxpayer debt behind $75 million in private investment in the case of liquidation, denied the second restructuring request the day before Solyndra closed its doors on Aug. 31.
Glover Park had done public relations work for Solyndra before registering as its lobbyist. A Glover Park representative sent an e-mail on Aug. 3, 2010, to a White House official in response to a negative press report about Solyndra, according to documents released by President Barack Obama’s administration.
“Solyndra is on solid ground and well beyond the startup phase,” Ryan Cunningham, senior vice president at Glover Park, said in the e-mail.
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