The swamp in Washington has its share of large reptiles, but John Podesta is a hungry, 12-foot gator. On the latest episode of the DrillDown podcast, Peter Schweizer and Eric Eggers do some gator-hunting.
News that the Biden administration named John Podesta to oversee $370 billion in clean energy investments means the gator is back for one more very large feeding. This places him as the decisionmaker for handing out funds that are supposed to make green energy a cost-efficient, viable replacement for the fossil fuels America runs on. It has been tried (and failed) before, but not at this scale. So, with this much at stake, you might expect the Biden administration to choose someone with a background in economics or perhaps someone with the deep experience in the energy business needed to spot good (and bad) investments for all that money. And you would be mostly disappointed.
So is Peter: “This is the one guy that the Biden administration has picked to dole out this money. It reeks of cronyism and corruption in so many ways that frustrate people these days.”
Podesta has had a long career in Washington, first as a lawyer at the Justice Department during the Jimmy Carter era, then to jobs on Capitol Hill. In 1988 he made his first trip through the famous “revolving door” to start a lobbying firm with his brother, Tony. During the administration of Bill Clinton, Podesta went through the revolving door again to several jobs, concluding as Clinton’s last Chief of Staff in the White House. When word of the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke at the Clinton White House, John Podesta was the first to hear it.
Post-Clinton, Podesta founded a left-leaning think tank in Washington called the Center for American Progress (CAP). In 2009, on behalf of the new Obama administration, Podesta and CAP senior fellows held talks with China in Beijing on issues including climate change, according to Peter’s book, Red Handed.
Podesta was a consultant advising Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This meant he did not have to divest from stock holdings, among other benefits. In 2011, he “joined the board of three related energy companies,” Joule Unlimited, Joule Global Holdings, and Stichting Joule Global Foundation. Joule focused on solar energy and one investor for Joule, Hans-Jorg Wyss, consulted with Podesta, not for his energy expertise but for his public policy experience. As the Government Accountability Institute reported in 2016, the Wyss Charitable Foundation gave “between $1 million to $5 million to the Clinton Foundation,” and “Podesta was paid $87,000 by the Wyss Foundation in 2013.” Podesta failed to disclose his membership on the board of Joule Stichting in his federal financial disclosure forms when he did join the Obama administration in 2013 as a senior advisor.
Podesta’s think tank boosted businesses he would later shower with federal money from the inside. A 2013 article in The Nation noted “The Center for American Progress, Washington’s leading liberal think tank, has been a big backer of the Energy Department’s $25 billion loan guarantee program for renewable energy projects. CAP has specifically praised First Solar, a firm that received $3.73 billion under the program, and its Antelope Valley project in California.” It further noted that the think tank “didn’t disclose First Solar’s membership in CAP’s Business Alliance, a secret group of corporate donors, according to internal lists obtained by The Nation.”
As Eric says on the podcast, “Big government and big business are often business partners.”
And as Peter concludes, “This is the inherent problem and why you don’t want the federal government to have individuals who are not experts – who are operators and lobbyists — making important decisions like this. They’re going to pass out cash to people that have made them money in the past, who will make them money in the future, and who have employed their family members. It’s corrupt and it’s cronyism. When you give people the opportunity to hand out other people’s money, they are going to give it to families and friends and that’s what we’re going to see with John Podesta, and there is certainly a history of doing that.”