Could Solyndra Become Obama’s First Big Scandal?

Solyndra’s failure could have big implications for the Obama administration, which is accused of pulling strings to help the solar panel company.

Could Solyndra Become Obama's First Big Scandal?

Presidents invariably find themselves wrapped up in a legal dust up of some sort. Bill Clinton had Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky, George W. Bush had a war built on lies, not to mention hearings on wiretapping, torture and other violations, and Ronald Reagan’s administration had the Iran-Contra affair, while George HW Bush was forced to explain his invasion of Panama.

Now it appears Barack Obama’s White House is being implicated in solar panel company Solyndra’s failure, a twist that could raise serious complications for the president’s administration.

Solyndra was at one point a laudable talking point for the Obama administration: in 2009, the small California-based business was guaranteed a $535 million Energy Department loan to show that the government backed green businesses –businesses President Obama promised were the wave of the future.

“It’s here that companies like Solyndra are leading the way toward a brighter and more prosperous future,” Obama said during a speech delivered at Solyndra’s offices in May 2010.

Obama may have spoken too soon, though, because not long after that well-publicized speech, Solyndra laid off about 40 employees, chose not to renew contracts for 150 more, canceled plans to offer public stock and stopped expansion of their facilities.

Then, this week, the company announced it was filing for bankruptcy and laid of 1,100 workers.

There are many factors at play in Solyndra’s closing: the rise of China’s solar panel industry hurt them, of course, and economists also say that the company lacked a sustainable business model. Republicans, however, insist there must be something else happening, and now House investigators are examining allegations that White House officials hand-picked Solyndra for stimulus funds without doing due diligence on the company, perhaps because the administration had extracurricular ties.

From ABC News:

House investigators said they have uncovered evidence that White House officials became personally involved in an Energy Department review of a hot-button $535 million loan guarantee to the now-failed California solar company Solyndra.

The allegation surfaced in a letter House Energy Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) sent to the White House Thursday night, saying he planned to accelerate efforts to understand an investment deal that may have left taxpayers out half a billion dollars.

“We have learned from our investigation that White House officials monitored Solyndra’s application and communicated with [Department of Energy] and Office of Management and Budget officials during the course of their review,” the letter says.

Upton and his peers now want the White House to hand over documents related to Solyndra’s selection. Those calls will only get louder, especially since the George Kaiser Family Foundation, a foundation named after a billionaire Obama donor, revealed they had invested in the company and “suffered a loss.” That means they would have gained from Solyndra’s success, which further raises the specter of impropriety on the administration’s part.

The Obama presidency has already been plagued with more than its fair share of mini-scandals and investigations. There was that Birther conspiracy, sure, but then there were other, comparatively legitimate complaints from Republican opponents that the Department of Justice wasn’t doing enough to investigate the New Black Panthers. There’s the ongoing Fast and Furious Gunwalker debacle currently embroiling the ATF, and also claims that the Obama administration isn’t fast enough on Freedom of Information Requests.

The Solyndra scandal goes beyond all of these. It brings together a perfect storm of political debate about the stimulus, allegations of inappropriate business deals behind the scenes at the White House, and even includes a conservative-friendly reality that green businesses are not necessarily as stable and sustainable as the administration would like to believe.

There is, as they say, something for everyone: from those who oppose the president’s economic plans to those who think he’s corrupt, to those who remain unsure about global warming. Republicans are understandably salivating over this story, and it’s more than likely they’ll keep pounding away until they find something they can pin on the president, or at least his administration.

So, the big question: would an ongoing investigation into Solyndra hurt the president’s reelection efforts? That depends on whether there was any wrongdoing, but even if there were wrongdoing, presidents have survived legal and political controversies in the past.

Clinton was, after all, reelected after being investigated in the Whitewater real estate mess, and George W. Bush managed to survive revelations that he lied about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction.

If a presidency can survive a fake war, it can survive a little solar panel scandal.