Fox cable pundits such as Sean Hannity are naming Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, and his lobbyist son, George IV, as unholy kingpins in SunPower’s successful bid for $1.2 billion in federal loans to create jobs in Mexico. (See update below.)
It’s provocative but all untrue.
George Miller IV is a California lobbyist and a partner at Lang, Hansen, O’Malley and Miller. Yes, SunPower retained the firm but only for state-level lobbying activities. Its state lobbyist is Bob Giroux. No, George IV is not a federal lobbyist. And he told Media Matters for America, a web site where much of this stuff has been debunked (see more about this site below), that he has never even worked on the SunPower state account.
More important, no one needs to lobby Congressman Miller to support solar projects. He has been a vocal advocate for alternative energies for decades.
SunPower’s is headquartered in San Jose but it has a research and development facility in Miller’s district in Richmond. In October 2010, he toured SunPower’s R/D facility in Richmond along with Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and SunPower CEO Tom Werner.
In July 2009, Miller and Werner were among many sponsors of a meeting of the Council on Competitiveness Energy Summit held at Moffett Field.
Media Matters found no evidence that SunPower is likely to go the way of Solyndra, another Silicon Valley-based solar company that gained massive notoriety and triggered a federal investigation when it suddenly defaulted on its Department of Energy loans. In fact, they found the opposite. Media Matters noted that analysts in a New York Times piece found SunPower “srongly placed” in the market. Other experts have said there is little chance SunPower will default.
Media Matters also refuted the allegation that the federal dollars will be used to create jobs in Mexico. The loan guarantee is for the construction of a 250-megawatt solar farm in San Luis Obispo County. Yes, the company is building a manufacturing facility in Mexico but it is also building one in Milpitas, neither of which will require the use of federal dollars.
How did this all get started with the Millers?
The first mention of Miller and his son, George IV, in connection with SunPower appears to have been in Human Events, a conservative web site. From there, the story spread to the cable shows with apparently little effort to verify the information. Even a local blog, Claycord.com, posted a Hannity video clip with a lead-in that says the congressman is involved in a “scandal.”
The story has also spawned concern in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District, which signed a contract with SunPower for the installation of solar panels on school facilities.
Reasonable people may disagree on the merits of federal investment in the alternative energies market but there is no scandal involving the Millers and SunPower.
UPDATE 9:40 AM FRIDAY: Critics have rightfully noted that I failed to state that Media Matters is a web site dedicated to debunking statements made by conservatives. But honestly, Media Matters’ motives are irrelevant. If I only listened to entities that had pure motives, I would listen to almost no one.
I linked to this site because it contains a long list of direct links to articles elsewhere that contain the facts, not opinions by Media Matters, which are clear:
- Congressman Miller’s son, George IV, is not a SunPower lobbyst and he played no role in the company’s receipt of a federal Department of Energy Loan. If he had been a SunPower lobbyist, I would have written an entirely different post.
- Numerous financial experts quoted in reputable news organizations such as the New York Times, San Jose Mercury News, Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post have found SunPower to be a viable business and unlikely to default on its federal loan guarantee.
In further reporting late yesterday, a colleague who covers business in the Silicon Valley for the San Jose Mercury News confirmed that SunPower is using the federal loan guarantee to build a solar farm in San Luis Obispo, not open a manufacturing plant in Mexico.
And I just got off the phone with the congressman and he tells me that his involvement in SunPower’s application for a federal loan guarantee consisted of a letter of support he and Rep. Zoe Lofgren wrote to the Department of Energy recommending its approval.
Again, there is no scandal involving SunPower and Congressman Miller.
If there was a scandal, you can bet I would be all over it because reporters love scandals. We live for them.
But I am also cognizant of the fact that as public confidence in all forms of government continues its devastating downward spiral, I have an equal responsibility to challenge inaccurate accusations. The utter disregard by people on both ends of the political spectrum for facts is downright scary.