Some highly-connected venture capital firms are upping their investments in green energy companies after those companies received taxpayer backing. A pair of top investment firms have increased their stakes in two companies that benefited from federal “investment.”
By 2010, solar company Solexel had received investment from some of the most politically-connected venture capital firms in the business. The next year, it got a $3 million Energy Department grant.
Benefiting from that grant was the Westly Group, a VC firm headed by Steve Westly, who sits on DOE’s Energy Advisory Board, which had first invested in Solexel in 2010.
Westly’s role at DOE gave him access to top administration officials, including Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and top White House advisors Valerie Jarrett and Jim Messina. Westly has refused to answer questions about a potential conflict of interest between his role at DOE and his VC firm’s significant investments in recipients of DOE money.
Westley has also bundled between $700,000 and $1 million for Obama’s two presidential campaigns. In 2008, he was the co-chair of Obama’s campaign in California. “He even has hosted the president at fundraisers in his Northern California home,” according to the Center for Public Integrity, “and co-hosted events for three of Obama’s most influential advisors.”
Another top Solexel investor, California VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, also enjoys key connections to the Obama administration.
John Doerr, one of KPCB’s top partners, sits on the president’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, where he has made renewable energy policy recommendations directly to the president and a host of top White House officials, including Jarrett, then-White House economic advisors Larry Summers and Christina Roemer, and then-climate czar Carol Browner.
Kleiner Perkins and the Westley Group were early investors in Solexel. The former increased its stake in the company in a Series C round of investment last month, which raised an additional $25 million for the Solexel.
Kleiner Perkins and the Westly Group also participated in a round of financing in May, which raised an additional $30 million for EdeniQ, a biofuel company that received early investment from the two VC firms, and millions in taxpayer backing shortly thereafter.
“DOE has been a great partner and very supportive of our technology,” said EdeniQ CEO Brian Thome after the DOE awarded $20.5 million for a cellulosic ethanol plant jointly run by EdeniQ and Logos Technologies.
Logos has significant connections to the Defense Department though its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Two of its executives and two of its board members have worked for DARPA, and the company has received a major biofuel contract from DARPA worth more than $35 million.
By the time EdeniQ and Logos got their DOE grant, the former had also received investment capital from Element Partners, which boasts impressive political connections of its own.
Former Pennsylvania Governor and Democratic National Committee Chairman Ed Rendell is a partner at Element. While governor, he hired Al Gore protégé Kathleen McGinty, who founded the White House Office on Environmental Policy during the Clinton administration, to head the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. McGinty is now an operating partner at Element.