@jimgeraghty Gee Ya THINK?||McClatchy: IRS anecdotes "could point to secret political vendetta within the government against conservatives."
This story has been around for a couple of days now and up to now, every time I try to write on it, I'm just not sure what to think about it.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch did so many favors for Raser Technologies, a green technology company in his state, that the company named its geothermal power plant "The Hatch Plant." His role turned out eerily reminiscent of President Obama's support for the failed solar-panel maker Solyndra. The Hatch Plant is now shuttered, and Raser Technologies has gone bankrupt.
Hatch's Solyndra hurts Republicans in general because it highlights the hypocrisy of GOP attacks on Obama's "picking winners and losers" and "crony capitalism." But Raser's collapse also hurts Hatch specifically as he faces a primary challenge from conservative Dan Liljenquist, a former state senator.
On one hand, lobbying for laws favorable to a business in your state is something that a Congress-critter is supposed to do.
In 2004, Hatch met for the first time with Raser officials, who "asked him to back tax incentives for hybrid vehicles," according to a USA Today report. Hatch then lobbied Bush's Energy Department on Raser's behalf.
The next year, Hatch proposed the CLEAR Act, providing new tax credits for hybrid and alternative-fuel cars. Hatch would later note that "Raser, a world leader in efficient A/C induction electric motors, has been a strong supporter of the CLEAR Act."
Hatch also paved the way in 2005 for Raser to get a tax credit for its power plant. Hatch was the sole sponsor of a bill to extend an alternative-energy tax credit from five years to 10 years for geothermal plants. Hatch called this bill "my proposal to improve the treatment of geothermal power plants."
He successfully inserted both his CLEAR Act and his geothermal provision -- both of which benefitted Raser -- into the 2005 energy bill.
On the other hand.....
After that, Hatch started trying to send earmarks Raser's way. USA Today reported that Hatch "requested seven earmarks for more than $20 million from 2006 to 2008 to help fund research and development projects for the automotive wing of the company." None of these earmarks was passed into law.After that, Hatch started trying to send earmarks Raser's way. USA Today reported that Hatch "requested seven earmarks for more than $20 million from 2006 to 2008 to help fund research and development projects for the automotive wing of the company." None of these earmarks was passed into law.
The practice of "earmarking" is something that the Tea Party has railed against loudly...and for good reason. Many of these companies - like Raser - are coming for government money because they are already failing and they are looking for that last prop up that the banks won't give them.
Raser was already in bad financial shape when the Hatch Plant opened in 2008 ("Raser Technologies: All Talk, No Profits" was the headline at one investment website at the time). The plant struggled, unable to extract enough heat from the ground to produce the power it had promised.
Obama's stimulus kept Raser afloat for a while. In February 2010, the Treasury Department awarded Raser a $33 million grant to pay off some debt on the Hatch Plant. It wasn't enough. In April 2011, Raser filed for bankruptcy, and the Hatch Plant is now shuttered.
Leaving Senator Hatch's challenger a prime media visual right before the primary....a press conference in front of the shuttered plant.
The Hatch-Raser story has clear parallels to the Obama-Solyndra story, and even has Obama fingerprints on it twice. Given the GOP focus on Solyndra as a symptom of Obama's flawed business-government entanglement, Raser puts Hatch in an uncomfortable place. How can he attack Obama for Solyndra -- as he has -- given his own record of trying to subsidize a green energy firm that has gone bankrupt?
"He supported Raser," Hatch spokesman Matt Harakal told me, "because they were a Utah company, not because of any specific focus on renewable energy. ... His focus is getting Utah companies out in front of the world."
So is parochialism a better excuse than environmentalism for government meddling in the economy?
And that is a good question for Utah Republicans to answer. They CLAIM to be fiscal conservatives - if so will they retire Senator Hatch and his earmarking ways? We will find out soon enough.