The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation is a federal agency providing financing mainly in developing countries for projects involving infrastructure, energy and more.
Last month, DFC loaned $500 million to Arizona-based First Solar to build a plant in India.
A Dec. 7 DFC news release chirped that the agency was “thrilled to be in a position to support First Solar’s new venture in India…vertically integrated photovoltaic solar modular manufacturing…” and the usual blah, blah, blah of a cheerleading news release.
What the news release did not say is that a big stockholder at First Solar is a major donor to the presidential campaign of Joe Biden.
That caught the attention of a pair of Republicans on the House Oversight Committee, Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, ranking member on the committee, and Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, ranking member on the environmental subcommittee.
They want to see DFC records regarding the First Solar loan.
“The loan, which is DFC’s ‘largest single debt financing transaction,’ raises questions about the involvement of political considerations in the analysis and decision-making processes at the DFC,” Comer and Norman said in a letter to the DFC.
The congressmen want records of communications about First Solar between the DFC and the White House. They’re also interested in communications involving billionaire Walton or individuals representing him.
“Given Mr. Walton’s extensive history [of] fundraising for Democrats, this loan raises questions about what role his political contributions may have played in DFC’s decision to grant this loan,” Comer and Norman wrote.
First Solar referred the Free Beacon to the DFC for comment and the DFC declined to respond.
The Congressmen also are interested in a Jan. 7 class-action lawsuit by shareholders claiming First Solar executives put out misleading information and inflated its stock price.
In that suit, the pension fund of Pontiac, Michigan, employees claimed that a First Solar solar module was “grossly underperforming and was unable to hit its wattage targets.”
Those claims inappropriately boosted 2019 stock prices and caused investors to lose money, the Free Beacon said.
In 2020, First Solar settled for $350 million with two U.K. pension fund stockholders who filed suit claiming First Solar’s misleading financial statements had inflated stock prices between 2008 and 2012.
The DFC was known before 2019 as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which had a “history of deals gone bad when mixing taxpayer dollars with politically connected entities like First Solar,” Tom Anderson, director of the Government Integrity Project at the National Legal and Policy Center told the Free Beacon.
“This agency has a history of favoring entities backed by huge political contributors, like First Solar, by giving them less scrutiny while prioritizing politically connected projects above entities and individuals who are not politically active,” Anderson said.
But a DFC spokesperson, whom the Free Beacon said asked not to be named, said the December deal had “absolutely nothing to do with politics.”
This is not the first time First Solar has been scrutinized by Republican House Oversight Committee members. They examined it in 2012, while reviewing Obama administration federal loans to solar companies that included the bankruptcy of politically-connected Solyndra and its default on a $500 million federal loan.
During the Obama administration there were $3 billion in loan guarantees to First Solar despite the company not being qualified to receive them, Republican members of Congress at the time said.
While known as OPIC, the agency in 2010 facilitated a $10 million loan to a donor of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Instead of using the money for a Haiti relief program, the donor kept it, later being sent to prison for fraud, according to the Free Beacon.
The current DFC loan was part of the Biden administration’s “Build Back Better World” program.
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