By Matthew Foldi
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm isn’t the only Proterra owner who has the ear of President Joe Biden.
Former vice president Al Gore, whose investment firm raised $55 million in financing for the electric battery company in 2017, reportedly spoke with Biden in recent weeks to lobby the White House on keeping climate policy as a focus of his infrastructure proposal, which is expected to include major subsidies for green energy companies like Proterra. In addition to his meeting with the president, Gore spoke with top Biden consigliere Steve Ricchetti last week about funding the green energy industry through the infrastructure package. The White House told the Washington Post that “the call between Gore and Ricchetti ended on a positive note.”
Gore’s lobbying efforts come at a crucial moment for Proterra, one of his investment firm’s major green energy investments. Proterra began trading publicly on NASDAQ on Tuesday morning, and executives are slated to ring the closing bell on Wednesday.
The electric battery company has been the source of major controversy for the Biden administration due to its close ties to Granholm. The energy secretary sat on Proterra’s board of directors before being tapped for the cabinet post and entered the administration with up to $5 million still invested in the firm. Despite the appearance of a conflict of interest, the White House openly promoted Proterra as the sort of business that would get a boost from the administration’s climate proposal.
Proterra has an extensive history of employing well-connected Democrats like Gore to take advantage of the Biden administration’s support for scaling up green energy investments. Earlier this year, the company hired a pair of Obama administration alums as lobbyists. Days later, Proterra scored its first of many visits from the Biden administration.
Gore founded his firm, Generation Investment Management, after his failed 2000 presidential bid as part of his transition from politician to global warming activist. The firm announced its investment in Proterra in 2017.
“Proterra is incredibly well positioned to help accelerate the growth of sustainable cities and continue our transition to a clean energy economy,” Gore said in 2017 after helping secure tens of millions of dollars for the company. The investment came with an eye on a quick IPO, but those plans didn’t materialize until this year as Democrats took power and improved the business environment for green energy.
Neither the White House nor Generation Investment Management responded to requests for comment on whether Proterra was mentioned during conversations with Gore.
The firm’s political ties don’t end with Gore and Granholm. Proterra’s other major investors include Tao Capital, the investment firm run by Nick and Joby Pritzker, who are related to Obama-era commerce secretary Penny Pritzker and Democratic Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker.
Granholm sold hundreds of thousands of non-public Proterra stock to an undisclosed private buyer following weeks of Washington Free Beacon reporting about her conflicts of interest as the official in charge of the nation’s electric battery supply chain.
Granholm has taken a leading role in selling the infrastructure proposal to skeptical Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.). Ahead of a visit to Manchin’s state to lobby him on the bill, Granholm’s agency awarded one of Manchin’s top donors with a $1 million grant.
Gore is advocating for the White House to maintain its commitment to climate initiatives, such as funding electric battery companies like Proterra. The White House is facing pressure to narrow the bill’s scope to make it more palatable to Republicans and moderate Democrats in Congress.
By 2008, Gore was so flush that he announced a $300 million campaign to promote climate fears and so-called solutions. And he just kept raking it in. According to a 2012 Washington Post report, “14 green-tech firms in which Gore invested received or directly benefited from more than $2.5 billion in loans, grants and tax breaks, part of Obama’s historic push to seed a U.S. renewable-energy industry with public money.”
The Post explained that Gore “benefited from a powerful resume and a constellation of friends in the investment world and in Washington. And four years ago, his portfolio aligned smoothly with the agenda of an incoming administration and its plan to spend billions in stimulus funds on alternative energy. The recovering politician was pushing the right cause at the perfect time. Gore’s orbit extended deeply into the administration, with several former aides winning senior clean-energy posts.”
Republican Congressman Fred Upton of Michigan, the chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, has been a critic of Gore’s profiting off the taxpayer funds using his government connections. Gore’s portfolio “is reflective of a disturbing pattern that those closest to the president [Obama] have been rewarded with billions of taxpayer dollars and benefited from the administration’s green bonanza in the rush to spend stimulus cash.” …
“Warren Buffett’s vice chairman Charlie Munger told a small meeting of investors in 2017 that Gore is ‘not very smart’ and ‘an idiot’ but he was still able to amass a personal fortune in the investment world. ‘Al Gore has hundreds of millions [of] dollars in your profession. And he’s an idiot. It’s an interesting story.’ Munger added, ‘he’s not very smart. He smoked a lot of pot as he [coasted] through Harvard with a gentleman’s C.’