I’ve been called many things in the last two weeks with the release of my new book Throw Them All Out by politicians from both political parties, but never a “sock puppet.”
That is how Robert Kennedy Jr. has chosen to respond to my book Throw Them All Out where I disclose the fact that a politically-connected solar company called Brightsource (of which Mr. Kennedy’s firm is the largest investor) landed a sweetheart billion-dollar plus taxpayer-guaranteed loan.
What has been so remarkable to me with the reaction to the book is the incredible disconnect between those on the inside getting these deals and those of us on the outside watching the rich getting rich with our money. I think the vast majority of people had no problem with the late Steve Jobs getting fabulously wealthy. He simply provided products and services people wanted. But those getting richer courtesy of our money and special loans? People are sick of it.
The bottom line is that Brightsource Energy got a sweetheart deal and it did so thanks to political connections. This is a company that admittedly has huge problems.
Kennedy never disputes that Brightsource got the money, nor that a former Principal at his firm, Sanjay Wagle, was a fundraiser for Obama and went to work in the Department of Energy’s alternative energy grant program after the 2008 election. Nor does he dispute that Brightsource admitted in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that the Ivanpah project is highly risky, or that Brightsource is in financial trouble. (The company is $1.8 billion in debt, had total revenue of just $13.5 million in 2010 and ran an operating loss of $71 million.) The company openly admits that its technology may not perform as planned and that it faces technological challenges. It’s also curious to note on the SEC filing (on page 42 linked above) that Brightsource is spending almost six times as much on “marketing, general and administrative” costs than research and development. And more than twice in those areas than it is spending on project development. Does this sound like a company that could survive without taxpayer money?
Mr. Kennedy also tries to downplay the role that his firm plays in the project by noting that Google and others are partners in the venture. I mention all of that in my book. But the Department of Energy is clear on who our money is going to. Note the announcement on Recovery.gov: “DOE Finalizes $1.6 billion loan guarantee for Brightsource Energy, Inc. ” What is not clear here?
Kennedy says that these facts are “inventions.” Really? Which ones? Those mentioned in the Brightsource SEC report? He never says. He assumes that because he says so, they must be inventions. Kennedy’s only real factual challenge is to my statement that the “green employment” created by the Ivanpah project will cost $1 million per job. He calls this a “canard.” Really? I got the information from Department of Energy’s announcement of the project on the federal government’s recovery.gov website . The project is said to create 1,000 jobs, thanks to $1.4 billion in taxpayer money. Do the math. Mr. Kennedy, my “canard” comes from the Obama Administration. Take it up with them.
The best he can muster is to call me a “sock puppet” for big oil. This brought peals of hysterical laughter to my office. I’m still waiting for my check from Exxon or BP. Kennedy says that the Hoover Institution, where I work, has received lots of money from big oil. What he doesn’t mention or notice is that I am the William J. Casey Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and my position is entirely funded by the William J. Casey Foundation. Any other money for this book project came solely from the book advance.
What Mr. Kennedy wants to do is divert us from the real scandal: the green energy program that he has advocated for is socialism for the super-rich. Wealthy investors likes Kennedy and his partners try to portray themselves are disinterested parties who are trying to help the environment and our country, but they have a stake in the game.
But this makes me wonder: if my financial ties are to be questioned, what about Mr. Kennedy’s? He certainly stands to personal profit from this deal. Does he have any of his personal funds at risk? Or is it only our money that is at risk?
Furthermore, do those committed environmentalists that listen to his thoughts on green energy know that he has financial stake in seeing green energy projects funded by the federal government? Do they know that he has a lot to gain personally by seeing Brightsource and Solazyme (which received a $21.7 million tax free grant) get taxpayer dollars?
I don’t doubt that Mr. Kennedy sincerely believes in the merits of alternative energy. But lets face it: this is a profit center for him, too.
As I point out in my book, when there was a push years ago to outlaw alcohol consumption in the American South there was an odd coalition that campaigned in favor of prohibition. Baptists favored it on moral grounds, and bootleggers who saw it was a way to boost their profits. As I point out in the book, there are plenty of wealthy investors who today are both Baptists and bootleggers. They shape public policy because they believe in it but also because they see it as a way of making themselves even richer.
When it comes to green energy, it’s time to recognize that advocates like Mr. Kennedy are not just Baptists, they are also bootleggers. They are looking to enrich themselves through their advocacy. And they are doing it with our money.
I’m still waiting for my check from big oil. Mr. Kennedy has already received his from the taxpayers.