(Caricature by DonkeyHotey)
As we learned last November, House Energy Committee and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), a ferocious critic of the Obama administration's energy policies, lobbied the Department of Energy in 2009 to provide loan guarantees for United Solar Ovonic. The company is a subsidiary of Michigan-based Energy Conversion Devices, a maker of rooftop solar panels. In a move that surprised no one after months of notices about lay-offs and a suspension of operations, ECD filed for bankruptcy Tuesday and said it will sell off USO. The Club for Growth, the anti-tax group that is pondering support for a primary challenge against Upton, has already chastised Upton for seeking DOE backing for the company.
Together with 13 of the other 16 members of the Michigan congressional delegation, Upton sent a letter in December 2009 to DOE Secretary Steven Chu seeking loan guarantees for several companies, including USO.
The request would be nothing out of the ordinary except the Republican congressman is engaged in a long-running investigation of the guarantee for Solyndra, a California-based company that received a $535-million guarantee to great fanfare, including a visit from Obama. It went bankrupt in September 2011. Upton and other Republicans have been hounding the administration about it every since.
Just days after Solyndra's bankruptcy announcement. Upton said in a statement: “It is not the role of government to pick winners and losers. Let’s learn the lessons of Solyndra before another dollar goes out the door.” During a hearing in November, Upton excoriated Chu: "The number of red flags about Solyndra that were raised along the way—many from within DOE—and either ignored or minimized by senior officials is astonishing."
Red flags apparently weren't on Upton's mind two years ago. USO's troubles were clearly visible well before the congressman signed onto the letter seeking DOE backing. In fact, just two weeks before the letter was sent, USO had announced 425 lay-offs. The DOE did not provide ECD with a loan guarantee.
Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller said Thursday: "Every Republican supports an investigation of Solyndra—the question is, where were you before? Fred Upton has a long record of supporting market-distorting energy subsidies."
The club's fat wallet may be a problem if it decides to open it for former state Rep. Jack Hoogendyk, the tea party-backed candidate who is challenging Upton in Michigan's 6th District for the second time. In 2010, Hoogendhyk lost by 11,000 votes, a margin of 14 points. To Hoogendyk's $64,000, Upton spent nearly $1.5 million on the primary that year. Upton already has $1.7 million in the bank ready for the 2012 contest.
But if Hoogendyk can gain the Club for Growth's full-throated endorsement (and its checkbook), many race watchers believe that the Energy and Commerce chairman could face a serious threat come primary day on Aug. 7.On the Democratic side, John Waltz, a disabled veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, has filed to run against whoever emerges from the Republican primary.
"It probably surprised Upton that Hoogendyk got that much support [in 2010], but it kind of shows you to what extent the Republican Party has moved to the right here in Michigan and elsewhere," Bill Ballenger, a longtime Wolverine State political analyst who writes the newsletter Inside Michigan Politics, said yesterday.