Angus King, once the odds on favorite to replace outgoing Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), has hit some surprise stumbling blocks on what most political observers believed would be an easy waltz back into the Maine political scene. The former Maine governor now leads Republican challenger and Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers by just 4 points, according to internal polls. King’s substantial lead over the summer – more than 20 points by some measures – has narrowed thanks, in part, to outside spending by both Democratic and Republican groups.
But Summers’ surge is also the result of King’s unseemly corporate and political schemes being exposed to day light. Indeed, a candid look at Mr. King’s positions, policies, and corporate interests reveals not only a Democrat masquerading as an independent, but a far left crony capitalist with a long record of abusing public trust for private personal gain vis-à-vis green energy boondoggles. Mainers should not elect a King on November 6th.
For starters, let’s dispel this notion that Angus King is politically independent: running without formal partisan affiliation was a politically contrived strategy that helped King secure victory twice in the legendarily independent Pine Tree State. But as Governor King implemented tax and spend policies, turning a budget surplus into a behemoth deficit, and as a private citizen and now Senate candidate, King’s views have shifted even further to the left. According to Federal Election Commission records, Angus donated $1,500 to Barack Obama’s presidential bid in 2008, a thing not uncommon for liberal college professors like King.
A little more surprising, though, is King’s contribution of more than $10,000 to Obama’s second term. A math major at Bowdoin College, where King is an honorary professor, would have to conclude that he is roughly four times happier with Obama’s performance these past four years, which puts him far to the left of most Senate Democrats. But King has said as much himself, broadly defending almost every Obama Administration policy under the sun, including the General Motors bailout and Obamacare. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Mr. King’s story begins in 1989 when, after being laid off by Swift River, a Maine-based alternative energy company, he founded Northeast Energy Management. Northeast Energy relied primarily on cozy government contracts—a business model energy consultant Gordon Weil has said probably benefited King far more than the customers, who in this case were Maine residents purchasing electricity from Central Maine Power. In King’s own words, half the advice he gave involved changing light fixtures. In January 1994, King sold his company, personally netting $8 million after taxes, a treasure chest that would finance his gubernatorial campaigns.
As governor from 1994-2002, Mr. King laid the foundation for future green energy schemes which he would later exploit as a private citizen. Although King had, during his work with Swift River in the 1980’s, been a proponent of hydro electricity, he now waged war against hydro, joining ranks with environmental extremists from the Natural Resources Council of Maine to—among other things—remove the Edwards Dam in Augusta. At the same time King railed against hydro, he jockeyed a bill through the legislature requiring 30 percent of the state’s electricity to come from “renewable resources” and helped his friends from California firm Kenetech Windpower Inc. secure approval for a 639 turbine project along the Maine New Hampshire border. His Democratic successor, John Baldacci would later bolster the scheme by excluding large hydro dams from the State’s definition of a renewable energy source.
As Maine’s hydro power industry waned, thanks, in part, to King and Baldacci’s stewardship, power companies were forced to look to other breezy sources to meet the legally mandated demand for some kinds of renewable electricity. With the stage set for some enterprising and well-connected entrepreneur to satisfy Maine’s requirement for renewable energy, King co-founded Independence Wind in 2007—two years after his energy mandates took force. In December of 2008, King and Gardiner applied for a Department of Environmental Protection construction permit related to a joint venture with Wagner Wind Energy LLC – i.e. the Record Hill Wind project. Backers of Record Hill –arranged as Record Hill Wind LLC – purported to have secured private financial backing for the project, thus clearing a significant hurdle in the permitting process, according to an Oct. 2, 2008 letter from CoBank Managing Director Brett Challenger to the Maine DEP. At the same time, however, King and Gardiner were maneuvering to secure federal monies for the project – a deft bait and switch.
Former Independent Governor of Maine, current Independent U.S. Senate candidate, Angus King (Pat Wellenbach/AP Photo)
Maine’s regulations require businesses to demonstrate the financial capacity to adequately manage the environmental impact of construction projects, a condition explicitly stated in Record Hill’s August 2009 draft permit. Yet when the final permit was issued—just five days later—this condition was softened: the word “construction” was replaced with “operation,” meaning Record Hill did not need to provide evidence of financing until the turbines started spinning – a significant reinterpretation of set regulatory laws. Shortly after receiving its modified permit, Record Hill sent a letter to residents of Roxbury, the town where Record Hill planned to build mountain-top turbines, informing them that construction on the project in their town had begun.
After reviewing a copy of this letter, a Roxbury resident who was the first to spot the small but significant change sent a letter to Beth Callahan, the DEP staffer who managed Record Hill’s application. Steve Thurston, who writes for the Citizens’ Task Force on Wind Power, requested evidence that Record Hill had the required financing. Callahan insisted nothing unusual had occurred, writing in a Sept. 14, 2009 e-mail, “This condition of approval which refers to financial capacity states that the condition must be satisfied prior to operation, not construction.”
Thurston then pointed Callahan toward the specific regulatory provisions that directly contradicted her claim that “all pre-construction conditions have been satisfied.” Referring to Callahan’s problematic interpretation of the statute, he wrote, “It would seem that condition #4 on page 48 of 60 has a typo, and the word construction should have been used instead of operation. Therefore, the developer must provide evidence of financial capacity prior to construction. Please clarify.”
His inquiry led to the revelation that King and Gardiner had set up a bait-and-switch that would allow Record Hill to begin construction under the pretext of private financing but ultimately procure public funding once the turbines began spinning. But again, I’m getting ahead of myself.
In an e-mail also dated Sept. 14, 2009, Gardiner responded to Thurston/Callahan’s inquiry stating the following: “Renewable energy projects remain one of the bright areas for major investments, as evidenced last week by the release of over $500 million in funds authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.” Gardiner’s response glossed over the substantial difference between securing financing prior to construction as opposed to doing so before beginning operation. And, showing just how cozy the Record Hill gang is with state regulators, Gardiner finished his e-mail with the following sentence: “Thanks, and don’t go and have that baby early – we want you around to guide this process as long as possible.”
Gardiner’s mention of Recovery Act monies foreshadows where the financing would eventually originate. But thanks to Thurston’s dogged insistence and to the Maine DEP’s complete inability to explain why Record Hill’s permit application was allowed to skate past clear legal requirements, the Record Hill project was halted. It was now quite apparent that, despite two attempts to show otherwise, Record Hill did not have the necessary financing. Enter: Angus the Green.
As King’s wind power cabal temporarily stalled, Angus rescued the plot by helping to secure a $102 million Recovery Act loan guarantee from his allies in the Obama Administration. Thurston, a Roxbury resident, testified on March 31, 2011, in opposition to Record Hill’s DOE loan application: “The application of Record Hill Wind LLC for a DOE loan guarantee should be rejected because the applicant has provided evidence to the State of Maine that they do not need the loan guarantee to construct and operate the project since they have $127 million in the bank and the ability to self finance the project.”
Despite protestations, Record Hill did receive a loan guarantee under the same Recovery Act program as Solyndra. According to Recovery.gov, the federal website designed to provide access to Recovery Act spending records, Record Hill Wind LLC of Lyme, New Hampshire received an award of $101,500,000 on August 5, 2011 for the installation of 22 Siemens wind turbines in Roxbury, Maine. Among the sub-awards doled out for the project is an $110,000 payment to Independence Wind for “project management.” King reportedly received nearly half.
What exactly was King’s role at Record Hill? Well, the White House guest log recorded the visit of Angus King on September 22, 2009. And on April 25, 2010, the log recorded the visit of Angus S. King, Jr. for a Small Business Administration conference with President Barack Obama. (Here it’s worth noting that King probably enjoys a cozier relationship with the SBA – and hence the Obama administration – than most Maine business owners because of his connection vis-à-vis Bowoin College to SBA Secretary Karen Mills, wife of Bowdoin President Barry Mills.) Perhaps King’s visits to the White House, which coincide interestingly with moments in Record Hill’s development, shed some light on the nature of his service.
As if King’s self-regarding capitalism weren’t unsavory enough, subsequent Congressional investigations have revealed that Record Hill was not only a crony capitalist ploy, but was also one of the least successful, most wrong-headed and perverse ploys of any financed under Obama’s Recovery Act. Angus sold his stake in Record Hill just one day before Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) released a hotly critical report of the Department of Energy loan program in which he mentioned Record Hill specifically as a loan that should not have happened. Gardiner, and most likely his partner, was informed days prior that the report would single out their company, but King insists the timing of his sudden sell-off was an “amazing coincidence.” And that loan was apparently not enough, for just prior to divesting himself from Record Hill, King helped apply for an additional Department of Energy grant worth $33 million.
Now that he’s in the mix for the Senate, however, King appears to be following in the footsteps of other notable green energy opportunists by becoming something of a champion for natural gas – which is problematic given King’s vehement and very recent opposition to hydraulic fracturing, i.e. hydrofracking, the process through which natural gas is harvested. In a June 5, 2011 op-ed for the Portland Press Herald, King warned that natural gas prices were too volatile to be relied upon and excoriated hydrofracking as environmentally hazardous. Fast forward to 2012 and Angus King is calling natural gas “America’s second chance” and an “unparalleled opportunity.”
Why this sudden change? Well, somewhere between his pro-wind anti-natural gas op-ed and his Senate bid, King joined the board of Woodard & Curran, a Portland-based outfit specializing in natural gas policy. As a director of Woodard & Curran, King has received $25,000 in compensation and more than $1,000 in political donations from his colleagues. Once again Angus is seeking that profitable combination of political power and corporate prowess that allowed him to gain entry to the political world and profit by it.
Nothing Angus King has ever done would lead the objective observer to believe that he will conduct himself as anything but a go-along with the Democratic Party and perhaps President Obama in second-term scenario. He is free to choose not to associate with a political party for the purposes of his campaigns, but his affiliation with one particular Party – the fringe of that Party, no less – is clear and apparent. As is his fondness for exploiting green energy scams to his own profitable ends. King’s approach to federal policy by no means follows the tradition of Margaret Chase Smith.
At the Bowdoin Daily Sun, King, whose mustachioed visage bears a striking resemblance to his Civil War hero, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, lamented the Democrats 2010 losses: “It’s too late now, but I wish the president had read The Killer Angels last summer. He would have learned that when Chamberlain and the 20th Maine were on top of that hill and about to be overwhelmed, they didn’t retreat or crouch behind the rocks or talk about bi-partisanship…. They charged.”
Mainers will decide this fall whether to let King lead the charge for more GM-style bailouts, more Obamacare, more Solyndra-style crony capitalism, more government.