Stryker Campaign Contributions, Ties to Embattled Solar Firm, Prompt Criticism

March 22, 2012
Abound Solar received a federal loan despite having a poor credit rating , raising questions of political favoritismPhotoMojoMike /Stock Photos

WASHINGTON – Patricia Stryker’s self-identification on federal forms as a major Democratic donor depended on whether she gave money to politicians with influence over energy policy or not.

When the billionaire heiress donated money to Democratic pols who could shape federal energy policy directly, usually she identified herself in connection with Bohemian Companies, the Fort-Collins based firm that made key investments in a participant in the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program.

When Stryker donated money to Democratic politicians with no direct influence over energy policy, she identified herself on Federal Election Commission forms as retired, self-employed, or a philanthropist.

Stryker’s donations in the 2008 election cycle illustrate the pattern.

Listing her occupation as chairman or owner of Bohemian, Stryker donated to the presidential campaigns of Democrats Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards as well as the congressional candidacies of Representatives Diana DeGette of Denver and John Salazar of Alamosa.

Obama, Clinton, and Edwards each had the possibility if elected of overseeing the Department of Energy. DeGette sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, while Salazar sat on a key Appropriations subcommittee that oversaw energy and water development.

Listing her occupation as retired, self-employed, or a philanthropist, Stryker donated money to every Democratic member of the state congressional delegation as well as three non-incumbents — Joan Fitz-Gerald, former Representative Betsy Markey, and Representative Jared Polis.

Stryker did not follow the pattern at all times. Her July 2007 donation of $2,300 to Senator Mark Udall, who sits on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, did not include her connection with Bohemian Companies. Two calls to a Bohemian Companies spokesperson were not returned.

Stryker has come under public scrutiny because of her company’s ties to Abound Solar, which received a $400 million federal loan in late 2010 despite having a poor credit rating from a major credit rating company. Earlier this year, the company announced it was laying off nearly half of its 400-member workforce.

In August 2008, Loveland-based Abound Solar announced that four companies had given it $104 million in private equity financing, a list that included Bohemian Companies, LLC. In October 2009, one Pat Stryker is listed on White House visitor logs as having been to the West Wing. In January 2010, Abound received $12.6 million in federal stimulus dollars. In November, Fitch rated Abound’s credit rating as equivalent to junk status. And in December, the Department of Energy confirmed it approved a $400 million federal loan to Abound.

Department of Energy officials deny there was any political favoritism in the federal loan to Abound, and no evidence has emerged.  Indiana Republicans such as Governor Mitch Daniels and Senator Dick Lugar also supported federal loans to Abound, which had a plant in the Hoosier State.

Political observers disagree about the import of Stryker’s donations.

Scott Adler, an associate professor of political science at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said Stryker’s donations to Democratic politicians are little different from those of Republicans. “My sense is she’s giving to Democrats because she’s liberal not because she’s seeking to influence any loan,” Adler said in an interview.

Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, said Stryker’s donations fit the pattern of the pay-to-play influence game.

“Abound Solar only exists because of people she put into office. This company clearly can’t survive without the government helping it out,” he said.

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