September 8, 2011

Tracing Solyndra's White House Connection (Guest Post)

By Bruce Krasting

It was pretty clear to me that Solyndra was facing trouble. But I had no idea that they would file Chapter 11.

I also made note of some scuttlebutt that George Kaiser (Oklahoma oil billionaire) was involved with Solyndra. I have been looking for a confirmation of this. Kaiser is an important link in this story. He is also a very big fund-raiser for Obama. He is often referred to as a “Bundler”. In this case that means he encouraged/pushed others to put up money for the big O’s campaign.

The Tulsa World filed a story Re the Kaiser connection earlier today. (What better place to get the news than a home town paper). Quotes from the TW article:
The bankruptcy filing indicates that Argonaut Ventures, an investment arm of the Tulsa-based foundation, holds almost 39 percent of Solyndra's parent, 360 Solar Degree Holdings Inc.
Okay, so who is behind Argonaut Ventures?

In an emailed statement to the Tulsa World, a representative of the George Kaiser Family Foundation said the organization made the investment through Argonaut.

So the family foundation was the source of the money that got Solyndra going. But George Kaiser tried to distance himself from this very ugly story. A quote from a Kaiser “spokesperson”:
"George Kaiser is not an investor in Solyndra and did not participate in any discussions with the U.S. government regarding the loan".
Interesting that Kaiser is doing his level best to distance himself from the stink. But it does not work for me:

George Kaiser is chairman of BOK Financial Corp. and owner of Kaiser-Francis Oil Co. Argonaut is headed by Steve Mitchell, who also served on Solyndra's board of directors.

So Kaiser wants us to believe that the Family Foundation he runs invested some $300mm of the families “excess cash” and he did not really know about it. The guy who is running the family’s investments (Steve Mitchell) is also sitting on the board at Solyndra. And we are supposed to believe that George Kaiser was just a passive investor? Not a chance.

We have Mr. Kaiser on the record on this. Again, his words:
“George Kaiser did not participate in any discussions with the U.S. government regarding the loan".
He never spoke to Obama about this? Not even once? Not even when Obama went (twice) to the company’s manufacturing offices in Pa and CA? I don’t believe that denial.

There is one very slippery fact that I am wondering about. It has to do with subordination. This a legal issue on who gets paid first in a bankruptcy. In all cases the equity is last on the list. But that is not the situation with Solyndra/Kaiser. From Bloomberg:
In February, Solyndra and its lenders reorganized the company’s debts, putting the U.S. loan behind $69.3 million owed to other lenders, including an affiliate of Solyndra’s biggest shareholder, Argonaut Ventures.
This kind of stuff is not supposed to happen. The equity interest of the Kaiser family got a preference as to the right of repayment from Solyndra. Kaiser got in front of the line. He got in front of the US Government’s $528mm IOU from Solyndra. Kaiser got in front of the interests of the American taxpayer. There had to be some very serious arm-twisting going on in the background to achieve this feat.
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I’ve looked at the BK filings. The company is going to sell its assets in an effort to pay of all creditors. The question is who gets paid first and what are the liquidation proceeds.

Solyndra had lousy technology. There are tons of flat panel manufactures left standing. Whatever Solyndra has for sale is not going to be worth much. I’m guessing around 20 cents on the dollar from book. The company has listed $859mm of assets. By my calculation the cash value will be under $200mm.

There are employee claims that come first. Next in line come trade creditors. Then comes the senior unsecured debt owed to Argonaut. The lawyers (There are a ton of big shots already involved) will get their pound of flesh. That leaves next to nothing for Uncle Sam. The taxpayers are going to take it in the ear for $400-500 million.

This story will hound Obama. His campaign got big bucks from a guy who ended up costing the Feds a very big penny. This is a story that could drag Obama down. He either has to step up and explain how this could have happened or he can say nothing. He has to provide some clarity on the George Kaiser connection. If he chooses to keep mum on this mess he will have to face Congressional hearings for the next 18 months. There will be a story in the paper every week or so. The Republicans will see to it. This is a story that could turn an election.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of EconMatters.

About The Author - Bruce Krasting had worked on Wall Street for 25 years--"For 25 years I woke up thinking, "What am I going to do today to make some money in the market". I don't do that any longer. But I miss it."  Nowadays, Bruce blogs about his take on financial events at Bruce Krasting.  (EconMatters author archive here.)

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