Congress Investigates Solar Company Tied To Tulsa Billionaire

Thursday, September 1st 2011, 3:20 pm
By: News On 6

Russell Hulstine, and Emory Bryan, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- A California solar company backed by the U.S. government and Tulsa billionaire George Kaiser's private equity firm has gone bankrupt.

Solar panel maker Solyndra suddenly shut down Wednesday, laying off more than a thousand people.

President Barack Obama had praised it as the poster child for the nation's clean energy future.

Kaiser's Argonaut Private Equity firm was the largest shareholder of Solyndra, which received  $535 million in federal loans.

U.S. Department of Energy news release: Vice President Biden Announces Finalized $535 Million Loan Guarantee for Solyndra [9/4/2009]

The Center for Public Integrity [CPI] said on its web site that Kaiser's firm remains a "significant financial backer of Solyndra," Solyndra spokesman David Miller confirmed.

George Kaiser, who is also chairman of the board for BOK Financial Corporation, hosted a  fundraiser for Obama in 2007 in Tulsa.

CPI also reported Kaiser raised at least $50,000 for the president's 2008 election effort.

Vice President Joe Biden was in Tulsa Tuesday for a private fundraiser for the Democrat National Committee.

8/30/2011 Related Story: Vice President Joe Biden Touches Down In Tulsa

BOK Financial and Argonaut Private Equity are based in Tulsa.

Now Congress questions whether Obama's connection to Kaiser was how the California company got a government guaranteed loan.

"Discouraged, and a little embarrassing, they were propped up by all kinds of government loan guarantees. [Obama] wanted them to succeed for symbolic reasons, and all kinds of substantive reasons, so this is a setback," said Russ Hancock, Joint Venture Silicon Valley.

It's unclear how much Kaiser will lose, but not for employees who were left with no notice and no severance.

"A little bit of a surprise, going from yesterday being normal to today being shown the door," said a Solyndra employee.

Kaiser is reported to have put in 35 percent of the venture capital for the company. Our request for comment from Kaiser - got no response.

According to its web site, Solyndra was founded in 2005 and manufactures rooftop solar panels in a state-of-the-art facility near San Francisco.

Read the House Energy and Commerce Committee Press Release