In the Biden administration's uncanny ability to put the wrong people in the wrong jobs, naming John Podesta to be the new "climate czar" might be its masterstroke.
The White House announced recently that John Podesta will oversee $370 billion in clean energy investments included in the Inflation Reduction Act. This makes him the decision-maker for handing out money to make green energy a viable, cost-effective replacement for fossil fuels. Green energy subsidies and other government giveaways have been tried before, and failed, but not at this scale. With so much money at stake, you might have expected the administration to choose someone with a strong background in energy technologies or perhaps someone possessing deep experience in the energy business who can spot the good (and bad) uses for all that money.
Podesta, now 73, is, as the New York Times primly calls him, "a power broker." His long career in Washington began in the Jimmy Carter era, then it was on to jobs on Capitol Hill. In 1988 he made his first trip through the famous "revolving door" to start a lobbying firm with his brother, Tony. During the Clinton administration, Podesta went through the revolving door again to several jobs, concluding as President Bill Clinton's last Chief of Staff in the White House. Post-Clinton, he founded the Center for American Progress (CAP), a left-leaning think tank, and was later chairman of Hillary Clinton's unsuccessful 2016 presidential campaign.
Throughout the Obama administration, Podesta was behind the scenes working in various "advisory" capacities before finally officially joining the administration in 2013. In 2009, on behalf of the new administration, Podesta and CAP senior fellows held non-official talks with China in Beijing on issues including climate change, and he contributed to President Barack Obama's climate strategy. He also remained during this time a close advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and a big supporter of the failed "Russian Reset" policy she famously championed. Podesta, who was not an official employee of the US government during this time, was also being compensated by serving on the board of an energy company that was involved in deals with Russia and that also had ties with the Clintons.
The Government Accountability Institute (full disclosure: I happen to be its president) issued a report in 2016 detailing Podesta's other members of Hillary Clinton's inner circle who became involved with a Moscow-based technology campus called "Skolkovo." During June and July of 2011, while advising Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Podesta "joined the [executive] board of three related companies," Joule Unlimited, Joule Global Holdings, and Stichting Joule Global Foundation. Joule focused on solar energy and one investor for Joule, Hansjörg Wyss, consulted with Podesta. The Wyss Charitable Foundation gave "between $1 million to $5 million to the Clinton Foundation," and "Podesta was paid $87,000 by the Wyss Foundation in 2013." The payment total between Podesta and the Wyss Foundation is unknown as the disclosures for the years of 2011-2012 are "not cover[ed]."
Shortly after Podesta was placed on the boards of these three companies, Rusnano, a Russian energy investment firm sometimes called "Putin's child," invested $35 million in Joule Unlimited. Although Podesta is listed on the corporate records, he failed to disclose his membership on the board of Stichting Joule Global Foundation (the holding company) in his federal financial disclosure forms when he officially joined the Obama White House as a senior advisor in 2013.
McClatchy Newspapers reported in 2016 that Podesta stepped down from Joule's board when he joined the Obama administration. They reported that an email from the Wikileaks trove shows that Podesta had transferred his Joule shares to Leonidio Holdings LLC, a company controlled by his daughter, Megan Rouse, a certified financial planner. Following upon that story, the Wall Street Journal quoted a Hillary Clinton campaign spokesman saying at the time that Podesta had cut his ties with Joule when he returned to the White House in 2014, "transferred the entirety of his holdings to his adult children," and had "recused himself from all matters pertaining to Joule for the duration of his time at the White House."
Yet, after he left the White House in February 2015, the Journal found, he received a bill from the law firm Steptoe and Johnson for legal work regarding Joule, performed in April of 2015. That was related to a "Joule request for consent to appointment of Mr. Akhanov." This would be Dmitry Akhanov, who runs Rusnano's U.S. office, and is now listed as a member of Joule's board of directors, but seeking approval on a board appointment from someone no longer connected to the business is odd.
As The Nation noted in 2013, Podesta's Center for American Progress (CAP) boosted businesses that Podesta would later shower with federal money from the inside. CAP was a big backer of the Obama administration Energy Department's "$25 billion loan guarantee program for renewable energy projects, specifically praising First Solar, a firm that received $3.73 billion under the program, and its Antelope Valley project in California." CAP failed to mention First Solar's membership in its own Business Alliance, a secret group of corporate donors, according to The Nation. It added that CAP's acceptance of financial support from First Solar while touting its virtues to Washington policy-makers points to a conflict of interest which, critics argue, ought to be disclosed to the public. CAP's "promotion of the company's interests has supplemented First Solar's aggressive Washington lobbying efforts, on which it spent more than $800,000 during 2011 and 2012."
Finally, it must be noted that John Podesta's brother, Tony, restarted his well-known lobbying firm once the Trump administration left town. Tony Podesta reports only two clients as of the last look on OpenSecrets. One of those clients is Huawei, the controversial Chinese telecom giant, and the other is called Protos Energy SSC.
What is concerning here is the pattern John Podesta has established of being involved on both sides of the table, and transiting Washington's revolving door. When the Biden administration chooses a "power broker" to be its decider over $370 billion worth of federal "investment" money that is intended to make green energy affordable, cost-effective or competitive with fossil fuels, we should not be surprised if large portions of that money will eventually be traced back to connections those companies have with that aforementioned power broker.
Podesta is also a master of the art of being an unofficial "advisor" to politicians. He only goes "official" when it is absolutely necessary. This allows him to bypass financial disclosure laws and maintain other business relationships that he would have to divest if he were in regular government service.
Political actors placed in positions of authority reward their friends. A separate investigation done by the Government Accountability Institute in 2016 detailed how funds from consent decree settlements overseen by the Department of Justice were funneled by then Attorney General Eric Holder to progressive non-profits engaged in political activity.
This is why you do not want the federal government to have individuals who are not experts -- who are operators and lobbyists -- making important decisions like that. They will pass out cash to people who have made them money in the past, and who will make them money in the future, or who have employed their family members. It is corrupt and it is cronyism. When you give people the opportunity to hand out other people's money, they are going to give it to families and friends. With Podesta, there is certainly a history of doing just that.
Peter Schweizer, President of the Governmental Accountability Institute, is a Gatestone Institute Distinguished Senior Fellow and author of the new book, Red Handed: How American Elites are Helping China Win.