Solyndra finger-pointing

September 13, 2011, 8:01 PM UTC

Solyndra was a bad deal for taxpayers. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it was a corrupt deal.

There has been a lot of finger pointing in the weeks since solar panel maker Solyndra went bankrupt, particularly given that the company called down virtually all of a $535 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy. A lot of it has been accusations of crony capitalism, mainly aimed at the Obama Administration.

Two points to consider, as this debacle continues to unfold:

1. Venture capitalists — you know, the folks who invest in start-ups like Solyndra — tend to lean Democratic in their party politics. Nothing close to unanimity, of course, but even a cursory glance at their campaign contributions in 2008 shows this to be the case. Maybe it’s because so many of them live in liberal bastions like San Francisco, Boston and New York. Or maybe not. Whatever the reason, it is what it is.

As such, the fact that a VC-backed recipient of DoE loans happens to have Dem-backing board members should not be surprising. Were McCain to have won and to have given out cleantech loans — a program set up by President Bush, for what it’s worth — most of the VC-backed recipients also would have featured left-leaning board members. Also would have been true for federal loans given to healthcare start-ups or energy start-ups or social media start-ups or grilled cheese sandwich shop start-ups.

2. That said, there should certainly be an investigation into the government’s due diligence on Solyndra. Particularly if some sort of fraud occurred, as suggested by recent FBI raids on both the company’s headquarters and the home of its CEO.

But let’s allow it to play out before jumping to conclusions. Remember, private investors plugged over $1 billion into the company also — including a number of reputable venture capital firms. Sometimes investments just don’t pan out, or smart people all want to believe in the same data points (at the expense of other data points). We should be sure to distinguish between corruption and poor judgment. Or, in the case of fraud, bad actors who pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes.