- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2011

Fast running out of money just two years after winning a half-billion dollars in federal loan guarantees, solar panel maker Solyndra LLC this spring looked overseas to India in hopes of finding new business to turn the company around.

Solyndra, which only months earlier had hosted President Obama during a tour of its headquarters, hired the Rice Hadley Group, a consulting firm founded by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Formed by Ms. Rice and former National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley, the firm performed an analysis of the solar market in India for Solyndra, later helping the company reach out to potential business contacts in the country.

“We finished the assignment in May and the relationship ended,” said Anja Manuel, a partner at Rice Hadley and special assistant to the under secretary for political affairs in the Bush administration under Ms. Rice.

If Solyndra won any business in India, it wasn’t enough. The company filed for bankruptcy this month, laying off more than 1,000 employees. Days later, the company was raided by the FBI.

But Solyndra’s hiring of the Rice Hadley Group does show that even as its finances were growing increasingly dire, the company continued spending on well-connected consultants and lobbyists as it sought to convince politicians and potential customers alike that its prospects were bright.

Six weeks before Solyndra announced it was broke, the company hired the Glover Park Group, a Washington lobbying firm founded by former Clinton administration officials, to help arrange meetings between company officials and members of Congress.

In addition to its team of in-house lobbyists, Solyndra hired three other Washington lobbying firms in recent years: McAllister & Quinn, Washington Tax Group and McBee Strategic Consulting. McAllister & Quinn filed papers last week terminating its ties to Solyndra. Others are likely to follow.

Ms. Rice’s firm didn’t do any lobbying for Solyndra, nor is it registered to lobby. Ms. Manuel termed the assignment for the solar company “small,” and bankruptcy records do not indicate how much money the solar company paid to the Rice Hadley Group.

“It was not substantial,” she said when asked how much money Solyndra paid to Rice Hadley.

She confirmed the firm’s hiring by Solyndra on Monday in response to an inquiry from The Washington Times about the firm being listed among the creditors in Solyndra’s bankruptcy filing.

Ms. Manuel said she was unclear why Rice Hadley Group was listed as a creditor, however. She said the firm had been paid what it was owed. She also said Rice Hadley was not involved in matters surrounding Solyndra’s half-billion dollars in federal loans, or a subsequent restructuring of the loans authorized by the Department of Energy.

The Times also reported Monday that another creditor listed in the bankruptcy case, the California Democratic Party, also didn’t know why it had appeared in the bankruptcy filings.

Meanwhile, Solyndra’s attorneys are scheduled to appear in court Tuesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. The company has asked for permission to auction off its assets.

Saying it was “operating under intense public and private pressure, “company also said in court papers filed Tuesday that it was cooperating with the FBI investigation.

It was a quick collapse for a company that over the past two years had been hailed by President Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and others.

But behind the scenes, the company was burning through a $535 loan guarantee package it won in 2009 from the Department of Energy. In November 2010, the company announced layoffs of about 180 employees.

The worsening finances prompted concern among White House officials about how Solyndra’s collapse would look politically.

“Given the PR and policy attention has received since 2009, the optics of a Solyndra default will be bad whenever it occurs,” a Jan. 31, 2011 email between staffers at the Office of Management and Budget reads, a copy of which was released this month by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

“In addition, the timing will likely coincide with the 2012 campaign season heating up, whereas a default today could be put in the context of … good government because the Administration would be limiting further taxpayer exposure …”

By February, the company announced it had raised $75 million in new financing through a restructuring, but the agreement allowed those investors to be first in line before taxpayers in case of a potential default.

Solyndra’s top two executives appeared before a House committee last week, but neither answered questions and instead invoked their rights under the Fifth Amendment.

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