President Joe Biden’s Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is the subject of an ethics complaint for promoting, in her role as a member of the executive branch, an electric bus company she sat on the board of and held over a million dollars of stock in.
Granholm — who oversees moving the country toward an electric vehicle transportation system and enjoys newfound powers after the passage of Biden’s infrastructure package — is facing scrutiny for promoting Proterra, a Burlingame, California-based electric bus company she sat on the board of and held 240,520 shares of stock in, which garnered her $1.6 million when she finally divested them 157 days after her nomination.
Granholm has been criticized for promoting Proterra in her official capacity as energy secretary and for hyping grant access to companies with connections to Proterra. These critics argue that Granholm’s promotion of the company, which as of Monday had a market cap of $2.6 billion, has increased Proterra’s visibility and thereby potentially increased the value of Granholm’s stock in the company before she was required by ethics rules to sell her shares on May 24.
Granholm’s promotion of the Burlingame, California electric vehicle company came at the same time that Democrats in Congress were crafting—and ultimately passing—Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, which dramatically increases Granholm’s authority as energy secretary to advance private sector companies in the transition to an electric vehicle-based transportation infrastructure. The infrastructure package — which has been promoted by Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Granholm, Biden’s Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, and other members of the administration — grants as much as $174 billion to green vehicles and $45 billion to zero-emission buses to “replace 50,000 diesel transit vehicles and electrify at least 20 percent of our yellow school bus fleet” and “to build a national network of 500,000 EV chargers by 2030.”
The California-based Proterra stands to benefit greatly from this Biden administration electric vehicle investment. It is perhaps unsurprising then that the Center for Responsive Politics found that nearly 85 percent of Proterra’s employee campaign contributions went to Democrats, including Biden.
Granholm’s involvement with Proterra started in March of 2017, when the company announced she would be joining its board ostensibly due to her experience with the automotive sector when she served as Michigan’s governor from 2003 to 2011. Proterra hoped to use Granholm’s “track record for producing a high-quality clean energy and transportation workforce in the Midwest” to launch the company into the “next phase of strategic growth and national deployment,” its press release explained. During her time on the board, Granholm supplemented her considerable income by simultaneously serving on the boards and consulting for various left-wing organizations as well, such as American Bridge PAC and Media Matters.
— Proterra (@Proterra_Inc) March 30, 2017
At #Verge19? Proterra CEO @rcpopple and @JenGranholm are discussing leadership in the clean economy and the importance of electrifying transportation across the country. pic.twitter.com/6WtVpUDjTE
— Proterra (@Proterra_Inc) October 23, 2019
After serving on Proterra’s board for roughly three years, Granholm was nominated to be Biden’s secretary of energy on December 18, 2020, and was later confirmed on February 25. During her confirmation process, Granholm signed an ethics agreement letter on January 16, in which she promised to step down from the Proterra board and divest her Proterra stock “as soon as practicable but not later than 180 days after my confirmation.”
Within that months-long period following Granholm’s nomination, Proterra’s stock price was potentially boosted by her nomination, as well as by the administration’s continued hyping of the company at various events. Although the company was not yet publicly traded at the time that Granholm sold her shares, there are indications that the Biden administration’s hyping of Proterra benefitted the company during this period, as was apparent when the stock of a company merging with Proterra spiked following a Biden event at a Proterra plant in April.
On April 6, Granholm signed a document that listed the stocks she had divested from; however, she left out her 240,520 shares of Proterra, which she estimated at the time to be worth up to $5 million, according to the full financial disclosure report she submitted four days after her nomination. Her investment in Proterra was her largest stock asset, equal in value to her home in Oakland, California, which she also valued as being worth up to $5 million. These two assets – her Proterra stock and her home – were the largest assets listed on Granholm’s financial disclosure form.
While Granholm continued to hold these Proterra stocks, her duties as energy secretary put her in a position to potentially benefit the company and its partners and in turn increase the value of the stock shares she still held.
In fact, on February 24, the day before the Senate confirmed Granholm, Biden signed Executive Order 14017, which gave Granholm, the now-secretary of energy, instructions to lead the efforts to create a supply chain for electric batteries and other electric vehicle components.
Two months later, on April 15, the Energy Department unveiled two different American taxpayer-funded electric vehicle grant opportunities worth more than $162 million. The grants were a continuation of the SuperTruck initiatives that were created in 2009 by the Obama administration and were renewed in 2016. The 2009 and 2016 SuperTruck grants were aimed at incentivizing fuel efficiency for diesel trucks, but the new “SuperTruck 3” grants under Biden were aimed specifically at creating an electric vehicle fleet and expanding EV infrastructure.
However, the introduction of these grants and Granholm’s authority as energy secretary to promote them created a potential conflict of interest because Proterra or its partners could benefit from the grants at a time when Granholm still held stock in the company. According to federal regulations, Granholm is required to consult ethics officials and receive proper approval before participating in any matter involving “specific parties which [she] knows is likely to affect the financial interests of a member of [her] household.” Obviously, the promotion of Proterra or its partners while holding over 240,000 shares of Proterra stock would conflict with this regulatory requirement. It is unclear whether Granholm sought or was granted a waiver regarding the Biden administration’s promotion of Proterra at that time.
On the same day the new SuperTruck 3 initiative was announced, Granholm joined a call with trucking industry representatives to promote the initiative, promising that the program would “push the envelope even further through the electrification of the vehicle, and hydrogen and fuel cells.” Granholm also said that the “money has been authorized by Congress” and mentioned by name the companies that have already been awarded grants, including Daimler, a Proterra partner.
The question of Granholm’s relationship with Proterra came under scrutiny again on April 20, when President Biden raised the company’s profile by virtually touring Proterra’s Greenville, South Carolina, factory to support the administration’s push for electric buses. Biden’s virtual tour took place at a time when Granholm still owned her Proterra stock. The White House claimed at the time that Granholm was “in the process” of selling off her up to $5 million-worth of stock in the company. Breitbart News’s Charlie Spiering wrote that shares of ArcLight Clean Transition Corp – the company that Proterra announced in January that it would be merging with – “spiked” after Biden’s virtual visit. Because Proterra was not publicly traded at the time of Biden’s visit, the spike in ArcLight’s stock provides a useful insight into the impact of Biden’s promotion of Proterra. When the merger with ArcLight was announced in January, Proterra was valued at $1.6 billion, and the announcement doubled the price of ArcLight shares.
It is unclear if Granholm was present during Biden’s virtual tour of the Proterra plant, but her connection to the company raised eyebrows at the time. However, the Energy Department denied that they had any involvement in the planning of that virtual tour.
On April 19, the day before Biden’s virtual visit, Vice President Kamala Harris toured Thomas Built Buses, a subsidiary of Daimler. The electric vehicle company is based in North Carolina and uses Proterra as its main supplier. “Proterra has partnered with Thomas Built Buses to electrify their most popular vehicle, creating a 100% battery-electric bus designed to meet the needs of school bus fleets,” a Proterra press release said. During the tour, Harris was photographed in front of a fleet of school buses near a charging station bearing the Proterra logo.C-SPAN C-SPAN
The favoritism shown to Proterra caught the eye of Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, after Biden virtually toured the company’s South Carolina factory. On April 27, Barrasso sent a letter to the Energy Department’s Inspector General “requesting a review of a potential conflict of interest involving DOE Secretary Jennifer Granholm’s investments in Proterra, Inc. and her promotion of electric vehicles.”
Additionally, on May 12, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC), the top Republican on the Environment Subcommittee in the House of Representatives, sent a letter to Granholm demanding documents from her in order to investigate her “longstanding relationship” and “multi-million-dollar stake” in Proterra.
On May 7, over two months after her confirmation, Granholm officially received an ethics waiver from the Office of Government Ethics to sell off her 240,520 shares of Proterra stock, after receiving backlash from Republicans in the House and Senate for her failure to divest this stock while the administration was promoting the company.
The waiver allowed Granholm to defer capital gains taxes when she unloaded the Proterra stock as long as she reinvested the money into a “permitted property” within 60 days. When Granholm sold her Proterra stock on May 24, which was 88 days after her confirmation and 157 days after her nomination, she netted a capital gain of $1.6 million, according to the Department of Energy. However, it is unclear where Granholm reinvested this money and whether that investment could also pose a potential conflict of interest, considering how vast and complex the electric vehicle supply chain is.
All of these potential conflicts of interest caught the attention of Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT), a government watchdog group, which issued a statement raising questions about Granholm’s involvement with the Biden administration’s electric vehicle initiatives.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration’s Proterra promotion continued at the highest levels. On June 29, Biden traveled to a Municipal Transit Utility in Wisconsin to promote his infrastructure agenda. During his visit, Biden mentioned his tour of the Proterra factory “in the Carolinas,” and the transit manager Biden was speaking to noted that his city was getting two electric buses from that same Proterra factory, a fact which White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also confirmed.C-SPAN
On the same day, Proterra announced that the Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration had awarded ten unnamed cities new grants “to procure Proterra electric transit buses, charging infrastructure, and Proterra Powered low-floor shuttles.” The company’s press release celebrated Proterra’s “ability to deliver comprehensive fleet electrification solutions.”
Indeed, as the White House drummed up support for its infrastructure agenda, Proterra and its partners continued to benefit from the administration’s promotion of electric vehicles.
On November 1, both Granholm and Vice President Harris traveled to New York to announce 25 projects that were awarded $200 million in Department of Energy grants, including $127 million in grants from the SuperTruck 3 initiative. At the event, both Granholm and Harris stood in front of a backdrop of Proterra buses, while announcing the Department of Energy’s grant recipients. At least three of the five SuperTruck 3 recipients had partnered with Proterra. In fact, roughly $76.8 million of the $127.8 million SuperTruck 3 grants announced that day went to a company with ties to Proterra, meaning these Proterra-linked companies garnered over 60 percent of the grants Granholm and Harris hyped that day.
One of those companies is Daimler Trucks North America, LLC, an Oregon-based company that received a $25,791,669 SuperTruck 3 grant and has a long history with Proterra, having invested in the company as part of a “strategic partnership” over the years.
In 2018, while Granholm served on Proterra’s Board, Proterra announced it “closed a $155 million investment round co-led by Daimler” and “entered into an agreement to explore the electrification of select Daimler heavy-duty vehicles.” In January, Daimler Trucks also was a part of a group that invested $415 million into Proterra.
Granholm’s involvement in that November 1 event – in front of the unmistakable backdrop of a Proterra truck – led the ethics watchdog group Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT) to file an ethics complaint citing Granholm’s participation “in a recent event during which federal grants that would directly and predictably benefit Proterra were announced and during which Proterra buses and products were prominently displayed.”
“Ms. Granholm would also have had intimate knowledge of the deep relationship between the awardees and her former firm,” the complaint added. “For instance… while Secretary Granholm served on the Board… the company announced it had received a funding infusion of $155 million from investors led by Daimler.”
Additionally, the complaint noted that Ford Motor Company, which received $24,952,314 of the grant, and General Motors, LLC, which received $26,061,726 of the grant, also have a history with Proterra:
Daimler is not the only investor in Proterra to have received an award from the SuperTruck 3 grant. General Motors is slated to receive more than $26 million from the program. GM Ventures made a $6 million investment in Proterra in 2011.
In November 2020, the president of Ford’s Americas and International Markets Group declared, “At the moment, [Ford] do[es] not have any plans to go into heavy-duty with battery-electric vehicles.” Yet just a few months later, Ford reversed course and decided to do precisely that, submitting a successful proposal that could gain the company nearly $25 million from SuperTruck 3 to develop and demonstrate five hydrogen fuel cell electric Class-6 Super Duty trucks.”
This summer, Proterra announced a collaboration with ROUSH CleanTech and another company in which Proterra will provide battery technology for Class 6 trucks employing Ford F-650 chassis. This agreement and the development of technology for the collaboration would appear to give Proterra a leg up in any new development of Ford’s Class 6 electric vehicles.
The ethics complaint noted that Granholm’s involvement in November 1 event in New York was likely “prohibited under the law or, at the very least, contributed to the appearance of giving improper and preferential treatment to her former employer.”
PPT’s director Michael Chamberlain told Breitbart News, “Protect the Public’s Trust raised questions about Secretary Granholm’s involvement with Proterra months ago. When presented with questions regarding behavior by its leadership that may have crossed the line, DOE’s response has been silence, when not dismissiveness. The American public deserves transparency from the officials who wield power over the public and authority over billions in taxpayer dollars.”
Steve Milloy, the founder of JunkScience.com and former advisor to the Trump/Pence EPA Transition Team, told Breitbart News that Granholm “obviously” was “in the know” and “in the talks” with Biden about becoming his energy secretary when she was still on the board of Proterra and would know how much the company would eventually be worth and how much government subsidies were at stake.
Breitbart News senior contributor and Profiles in Corruption author Peter Schweizer called Granholm’s “massive” conflict of interest “obvious and clear cut.”
“Granholm has a massive conflict of interest that is obvious and clear cut. She was not an ancillary player in this—she was a central player,” Schweizer, the president of the Government Accountability Institute, told Breitbart News. “This is the sort of corporate welfare and cronyism that should frustrate and anger everyone.”
Granholm is no stranger to controversy when it comes to taxpayer-funded government grants for electric vehicle companies.
The push for electric vehicles was “a major focus of Granholm’s two terms as governor, which she pursued by selecting particular businesses and industries to back with state taxpayer support,” Michigan Capitol Confidential notes.
As governor, Granholm approved billions of dollars in state-approved tax credits for her chosen companies, but “every single one fell far short of the job projections hailed by the Granholm administration in press releases. And a good number of the companies went bankrupt,” according to Michigan Capitol Confidential.
The most notorious of Granholm’s state-backed grant failures was the Michigan-based electric battery company A123 Systems, to which Granholm’s administration granted $141 million in state credits and subsidies in conjunction with a $249 million federal stimulus grant from the Obama administration to develop lithium ion battery technology for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Despite this massive government investment, A123 Systems filed for bankruptcy in October 2012. And then in 2013, the Obama-Biden administration approved the sale of A123 Systems to a Chinese company, thereby allowing China to acquire all of the U.S. taxpayer-funded electric battery research developed by the Michigan company.
Given the Biden administration’s soft stance on China and lack of clear safeguards in his infrastructure bill to prevent China from buying up U.S. assets, government subsidized companies like Proterra could be the next A123 Systems. However, it remains to be seen how much Granholm and other Biden administration officials and friends could potentially benefit in the meantime.
Jacob Bliss is a reporter for Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter at @JacobMBliss.
Rebecca Mansour is a Senior Editor-at-Large for Breitbart News. You can follow her on Twitter at @RAMansour.