Solar company that reaped billions from 'Inflation Reduction Act' donated millions to Biden, Democrat campaigns

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WASHINGTON, DC - Many people have seen the green energy obsession for what it is–redistribution of wealth. And in one case, a company closely tied to the Democrat Party is raking in the dough. 

The Associated Press (AP) reports that First Solar, the largest domestic manufacturer of solar panels, supported Democrats to the tune of $2 million in 2020, including $1.5 million into the Biden campaign. This came as Biden was campaigning on a promise to spend billions in taxpayer money to “save the world” from “climate change.”

After Biden was installed into office, First Solar spent an additional $2.8 million lobbying his administration and Congress, records reveal, which also included “high-level meetings with top administration officials.” 

The company’s cozy arrangement with Biden was a sharp departure from that with President Trump, who company officials claimed was “hostile” toward so-called renewable energy. That arrangement with Biden paid off handsomely for First Solar, which scored when Biden signed the poorly named Inflation Reduction Act,” which was signed into law in 2022 with zero Republican support. 

First Solar’s stock price has been skyrocketing since and has doubled and its profits have followed along courtesy of federal subsidies that could be worth some $10 billion over the next ten years. That windfall has likewise benefited a group of Democratic donors who invested heavily in the company. 

Biden and the Democrats have claimed that the Inflation Reduction Act, which has done anything but, is an effort to “help the environment” and boost the economy in the name of “going green.”

However, what has happened to First Solar’s finances and stock price shows, the AP reports, “how the same piece of legislation, shaped by a team of lobbyists and potentially influenced by a flood of campaign cash, can yield mammoth returns for the well-connected.” Just call it “Build Back Better” for Biden’s campaign donors. 

First Solar’s influence on Congress and the administration was explained by First Solar’s chief lobbyist, Samantha Sloan:

“Those of us who’ve worked on this know that none of this would be possible without the dedication and collaboration of a group of Congressional staffers who worked long hours” to get the law passed and to make certain the law would “deliver as intended.” That is to deliver lots of money to Biden donors. 

A White House spokesperson, Angelo Fernandez Hernandez, spoke of the administration’s efforts in the green energy arena: 

“President Biden has led and delivered on the most ambitious climate agenda in history, restoring America’s climate leadership at home and abroad,” he said in a statement. “The White House regularly engages with industry leaders in all sectors, including clean energy manufacturers and gas and oil producers.” 

First Solar’s relationship with Democrats began during the Obama administration, where Biden served as vice president. The administration subsidized the green energy sector, which included First Solar, through billions of dollars in government-backed loans. 

One of those companies was Solyndra, which was well-connected to the Obama administration which the administration poured $500 million into as the company misled federal officials by engaging in a “pattern of false and misleading assertions.” The company received the first clean energy loan in 2009, only to declare bankruptcy two years later. 

As the Cato Institute reported, “Obama’s green-technology program was infused with politics at every level,” noting that “political considerations were raised repeatedly by company investors, Energy Department bureaucrats, and White House officials.” Sound familiar? 

According to the AP, First Solar executives and lobbyists met at least four times with administration officials in 2022 and 2023, including with Clinton holdover John Podesta, who was overseeing the Inflation Reduction Act’s environmental provisions. The AP reported:

“One of the more intimate gatherings was attended by Podesta, [First Solar CEO Mark] Widmar, and Sloan, as well as First Solar’s contract lobbyist, Claudia James, an old friend of Podesta’s who worked for decades at a lobbying firm run by Podesta’s brother, Tony, records show.” 

Widmar and Sloan also attended a September 2022 celebration event at the White House, records and social media posts showed, with Sloan calling the legislation “one of the most consequential pieces of legislation of our lifetimes.” 

From a financial standpoint, First Solar stands to benefit handsomely, including tax credits for domestic clean energy manufacturers, designed to make U.S. companies more competitive with Chinese companies. However those credits can also be sold on the open market to companies having nothing to do with fighting so-called “climate change.” 

For example, last year First Solar sold approximately $650 million of the credits to a tech company, creating a windfall influx of cash courtesy of American taxpayers. The AP notes that investors in First Solar, which includes a number of major Democratic donors, have benefited as the company’s stock price goes up. 

In fact, Farhad Ebrahimi, co-founder of software company Quark, was added to the Forbes billionaire list in 2023 thanks in part to the skyrocketing value of his approximately 5% stake in First Solar, according to financial disclosures. Ebrahimi, his wife and his family contributed at least $1 million to the Biden 2020 campaign. 

Another billionaire, Luke T. Walton, Walmart heir, had a 4.9% interest in First Solar according to financial disclosures from 2020. Walton donated $360,000 to Biden’s 2020 election campaign, as well as $100,000 to his 2021 inauguration, campaign finance records show. 

When the Inflation Reduction Act was initially proposed, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) was a holdout, however Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) negotiated with Manchin in order to get the bill resurrected. Only two days after the two began meeting, a Democratic mega donor, Jim Simons, who also backed Democrat green energy policies, donated $2.5 million to Schumer’s super PAC, which spends tens of millions of dollars each election supporting Senate Democrats. 

A Simons-founded hedge fund, Renaissance Technologies, started buying First Solar shares. Between July, when Schumer started negotiating with Manchin, Renaissance purchased 60,000 shares. Over time, the hedge fund increased its position to 1.6 million shares, which it sold in 2023 after the company’s price went up significantly. 

Simons, who passed away in May, was as mentioned above a “mega donor.” His family gave $25 million to Democrats in 2022, according to records. He also in the past helped Schumer craft legislation while referring to him as “a pretty good friend of mine.” 

Schumer’s spokesperson denies that Schumer spoke with Simons about the negotiations between he and Manchin. 

“At Sen. Manchin’s request no one outside of Sen. Schumer’s staff or Sen. Manchin’s staff was told about the negotiations, the spokesperson said. A Manchin spokesperson did not respond to the AP’s request for comment. 

The previous issues with Solyndra drew Republican attention to First Solar in 2012, where the House Oversight Committee grilled the chairman about “strong-arm tactics used to secure over $2 billion in loans from the Obama administration” for First Solar projects. 

At the time, Republicans received an email that indicated First Solar pressured the Department of Energy for the financing, and the company suggested that if they didn’t receive the financing, they wouldn’t build a Mesa, Arizona factory that the Obama administration was eager to build. 

“A failure to receive” approval could “jeopardize construction” and “frankly, undermine the rationale for a new manufacturing center in Arizona,” the former executive wrote in 2011. 

Although the loans were granted, the Mesa factory was never built. 

First Solar also recently settled a securities fraud lawsuit, paying $350 million that was paid shortly before the case was to go to trial. The company denied wrongdoing, and the settlement in 2020 included no admission of liability. 

According to the AP, the “details included in the case file offer a damning portrait,” with investors accusing First Solar of trying to cover up a defect that caused the company’s panels to fail prematurely, according to court records. Investors argued the decision to settle the case was a desire by company executives to preserve the company’s stock price. 

However, despite First Solar downplaying the extent of the issue with their panels, a number of company officials dumped personally held stock, court records show, including company founder Mark Ahern, who sold off over $427 million in shares before the extent of the defect was publicized and the stock dropped. The company ended up spending $260 million to fix the issue. 

According to a First Solar spokesperson, First Solar settled the case to “focus on driving the business forward.” 

Green energy advocates claim that since First Solar is the biggest US-based solar manufacturer, Biden has no other option than to subsidize the company if he wants to maintain his climate goals. 

“Hopefully they’ve reformed,” said Pat Parenteau, an emeritus professor at Vermont Law School and a senior fellow at the Environmental Law Center. “They may be an imperfect vehicle. But the reality is we desperately need them.” 

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