President Obama announced on June 26, 2015 that he was appointing Steven Spinner to the Commission on White House Fellowships. In his statement, Mr. Obama described Mr. Spinner as an experienced and committed individual, and the President went on to say that he is looking forward to working with him. At first glance, no big deal—another hanger-on appointed to one of Washington’s myriad patronage boards and panels.
Then again, on closer scrutiny, Spinner isn’t your typical-everyday D.C. flunky. Steven Spinner was an adviser for the Department of Energy (DOE) loans program responsible for the Solyndra debacle. He played a lead role in the most infamous case of crony capitalism of the Obama Presidency, which means—arguably—the most infamous episode of cronyism in our nation’s history. Solyndra—the failed solar panel company that filed for bankruptcy—was the first to receive a taxpayer-backed loan guarantee from the DOE in September 2009. Spinner helped steer millions of dollars of the controversial stimulus funding to Obama’s crony corporate friends at Solyndra.
Spinner raised political cash—over $500,000—for Obama during the 2008 campaign, and then Spinner was named to the White House transition team and later served as “chief strategic operations officer” at DOE. Spinner—while at DOE—helped deliver over $530 million to Solyndra. In 2011, Solyndra files for bankruptcy leaving taxpayers with the massive bill. Spinner raised more political cash for the President in the 2012 cycle, and he’s rewarded again with a post on a White House commission. You can’t make this stuff up. The whole sordid affair reads like a bad script from a B-level political melodrama.
And there’s more to the script. Spinner’s wife worked for a law firm that represented Solyndra and a dozen or so other green-energy interests that applied for federal funding. The public record shows that her firm received $2.4 million from the government in legal fees associated with Solyndra’s loan application. Washington has always been a place where deals are done and favors exchanged. However, President Obama has created a new normal of hyper-cronyism of rewarding his political friends with taxpayer dollars (Solyndra) and government posts (Spinner).
The Washington D.C. metro-area has become the wealthiest region in the country because the political class rewards those like Steven Spinner who deal, almost exclusively, in favors at the expense of the American people. While Washington’s political class gets richer, everyday Americans struggle to pay their mortgages, put their children through school, and keep groceries in their cupboards. The economy remains stalled and our nation is in the worst “economic recovery” in our history. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that there are nearly 94 million Americans out of the workforce, the lowest labor force participation since 1977. Also for the first time in our history, working-age people now make up the majority of American households that depend on food stamps, a dramatic change from a just a few years ago, when children and the elderly were the main recipients.
As National Review reported back in 2011, Steven Spinner was “intimately involved in the negotiation and was advocating on behalf of” Solyndra regarding the DOE loan. Spinner involved himself in these negotiations regarding Solyndra even though he had signed an ethics agreement not to do so. What a sad testament to Washington’s new normal of hyper-cronyism that Steven Spinner is once again being honored with a White House position, even one as innocuous as the Commission on White House Fellowships. It’s sadder still that no one in the media picked up on the story. No news here—just business as usual for President Obama and Washington’s political class. Cronyism is Spinn[er]ing out of control.