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  • 'A Political Beast': DOE-Backed Ecotality's Extensive Political Muscle

    As a congressional panel looks into federal support for a major electric vehicle charging station manufacturer, more questions about the company’s political connections are surfacing. They speak to a virtual constant among recipients of federal “green energy” money: beneficiaries enjoy significant political connections.

    The company in question, Ecotality, has received about $125 million in federal money under the Obama administration. It was the subject of a three-part series at Scribe earlier this year, which examined a Securities and Exchange Commission subpoena relating to potential insider trading by top company executives, large bonuses paid to executives despite the company’s shaky financial footing, and Ecotality’s focus on securing federal backing.

    The latter point bears revisiting in light of newly uncovered facts about the company’s connections in Washington.

    On a July 2007 shareholder conference call, Ecotality CEO Jonathan Read put it bluntly: “I’m a political beast,” he told a shareholder, “and playing the political card is something that when the time is right we’re going to play very hard.” Asked when that time might be, Read answered, “you call in your chips when you have a specific project you want to go after.”

    It wasn’t long before such a project emerged. In the fourth quarter of 2008, Ecotality shifted its lobbying strategy. Until then, it had devoted most of its lobbying muscle to “continu[ing the] competitive bid process for DOE testing,” in the words of its disclosure forms. During the Bush administration, Ecotality received contracts to test electric vehicle technology, and lobbying efforts were geared toward continuing that relationship.

    In August of 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama announced his goal to get 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. Around that time, Ecotality’s lobbying efforts, previously confined to Congress and DOE, were expanded to the White House, and to include work on “DOE projects,” a slight but significant shift in the topic under discussion.

    As Ecotality put it in a December 2008 SEC filing, “we believe the focus by the Obama Administration [on electric vehicles] will provide strong funding opportunities for us and our core technologies.”

    In its push to secure that funding, Ecotality hired Ziemba-Waid Public Affairs, which touted Ecotality’s eventual $99.8 million award through DOE’s EV Project on its blog. The firm boasts a “deep knowledge of the Western and Washington, D.C. political landscape,” according to the website.

    But ZWPA doesn’t just have knowledge of D.C.’s workings – it has extensive ties to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, even flouting those ties on its website under the headline “Friends in high places,” and to former Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-AZ), whose committee assignments were of particular note for Ecotality.

    ZWPA founder David Waid is the former chairman and executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party. In that capacity, he “shepherded through a 2006 election cycle that was the most successful in recent memory for Arizona Democrats,” according to the Arizona Republic. Mitchell was one of two Democrats elected to the U.S. House as part of that wave. Colin Read, the son of Ecotality’s CEO, served as his campaign’s assistance finance director.

    Mitchell, who would receive $5,550 in campaign contributions from ZWPA employees during his time in the House, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, sat on key panels for Ecotality’s purposes: the Science and Technology Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation, and the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.

    ZWPA has other ties to Mitchell and Napolitano through the Democratic-leaning group Project for Arizona’s Future. Len Munsil, Napolitano’s opponent in the 2006 gubernatorial election, alleged that PAF, officially a non-political group devoted to voter “education,” had illegally coordinated with advocacy groups financed by the state Democratic Party, then run by Waid. A state election panel later ruled that there was not enough evidence to implicate Napolitano on that coordination.

    After the 2006 election, two Mitchell campaign staffers –campaign manager Kelly Ward and volunteer coordinator Lauren Kryder – took jobs with PAF. Meanwhile, Tom Ziemba, PAF’s executive director, left to co-found ZWPA with Waid, where he would work to secure federal funding for Ecotality.

    Ben Powers, a former program director at PAF, also took a job with ZWPA, where he worked from 2008 to 2009. Powers’s bio says he has worked with U.S. congressional campaigns. His online video account includes an interview with Mitchell, which, Mitchell’s comments indicate, was filmed in 2010. The year before, Powers’s organization, PMD Media, uploaded an attack ad against Eric Wnuck, then Mitchell’s expected Republican opponent.

    During his first campaign for the U.S. House, Mitchell held a joint fundraiser with his then-state Senate colleague Slade Mead, who was running for superintendent at the time. Mitchell prevailed in his election; Mead did not. The following year, Mead was elected to Ecotality’s board of directors.

    The Mitchell-Mead fundraiser, it should be noted, was held at the home of then-governor, and current Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano.

    After Napolitano was tapped for DHS secretary in January 2009, her long-time spokeswoman Jeanine L’Ecuyer took at position at ZWPA. By December of that year, however, L’Ecuyer was listed as the spokeswoman for none other than Ecotality.

    Posted in Featured, Scribe [slideshow_deploy]

    7 Responses to 'A Political Beast': DOE-Backed Ecotality's Extensive Political Muscle

    1. historianMI says:

      With all the war against COAL and electric generation, where will all the millions of kilowatts of electricity come from to recharge the million electric cars during the major usage hours during the day??

      • James says:

        Most EV vehicles are charged at night, when there is plenty of surplus electricity and rates are very low… as such, operational cost of an EV is extremely low. Also, a large segment of owners have invested in home solar… and are, well, driving "free" on sunshine.

        • TimAZ says:

          If most charge their vehicles at night as you say. How dose the solar panel set up manage to charge the vehicle during the night for the next days trip back to work? Don't BS me James I'm totally on solar wind and a standby generator. In order to charge an electric car within a reasonable amount of time during the day you would have to invest in a 40,000 dollar system minimum. You can't fit enough panels on any of these cars to charge during an eight hour work day while at work.

        • Bobbie says:

          …for the short run but that'll eventually change and significantly reduce any nighttime surplus electricity and increase costs when cars and their parts and everything that is currently charged at night are both subject to change.

          Did the large segment of owners who invested in home solar, pay for it on their own with no government check in any way, shape, form or appreciation?

          The more you play with direct sunlight, the more you get burned. Going to great extents to draw in more of the sun's heat to earth, adds to the firesssssssss! Why the hypocrisy? Electricity was said to contribute to the man-made global warming fraud before it was found to be man made global fraud!

    2. Rand says:

      After the election, the Ecotality hustle will disappear.

    3. joehollinger says:

      Excuse me, since Ecotality has influence in high places and definite connections with government officials, any award to that company would be suspicious and have strong conflicting interests involved. Under government contracting rules, and the contracting rules of most ethical businesses, no award can be made to Ecotaltity. Also, the people to whom the money that will be awarded to the company presenting the best proposal for providing the end product and services, belongs to you, me and the rest of the American people. I do not want my money going to a company that gets awarded a multimillion dollar contract based on political connections and not on their ability to provide quality supplies and services at an economical price that will perform as expected.

      The best way to award such a contract is not sole source. Awards to multiple companies to provide First Articles that demonstrate each company's ability to provide an acceptable charging station that will perform to contract specifications in all respects. The contract award should be split amongst those companies that produce acceptable First Articles.

      This way several companies will develop technologies and capabilities that America needs for the future and can market to foreign markets to expand the use of electric vehicles. The contract must include restrictions on the sale of government owned technology to foreign competitors and/or American companies doing business outside of the U.S. All production must be done in the U.S. and all components must be U.S. made from materials available in the U.S. . Any deviations from contracts would have to be justified in writing and approved by the agency letting the contract before any deviation takes place.

      Each of the contracts must include a penalty clause that exacts a financial penalty on each successful contractor should any defaults in performance occur. The penalties should be significantly steep to prevent defaults from taking place and if they do take place, insure that they are of short duration.

      Good sound contracting processes managed by contacting officers that have experience with simultaneous awards for demonstration models (first articles) and awards to more than one company for the same end product over multiple years of production performance. Each contract has to include the right for the contracting officer to perform in-plant surveillance during all phases of contract performance.

      Should these processes, or processes quite similar, American citizens' money should be wisely spent. I have enough experience around government contracts and contracting to know that "political influence" can create unfair and unethical contracts awards. All attempts at letting this happen must be disclosed and publicized. If things won't pass the newspaper tests, something isn't right.

    4. joehollinger says:

      Another thought on charging stations for electric cars. It seems to me that the production of charging stations is something that small business all over the United States should step up and do in order to service those that own electric cars.

      Electric cars do have engines that have unusual demands placed on them through occasions use and coming on line under load when they are needed. Electric cars use batteries that are new technology as are the electrical systems that make the cars work. This has to include at least one on board computer.

      Manufacturers of electric cars know what support these cars will/may require initially and over time and they should publish the requirements and specifications that businesses that wish to enter into the electric car support realm will need to know in order to provide acceptable services. Hooray for competition and may the guys with the best charging stations and repair centers win. No large businesses need apply, especially those that have foreign sources and/or production facilities.

      Its time for businesses to cooperate and form alliances for meeting customer needs. Profits cannot be the guiding purpose for any alliance or any business. Profits are important for sure, but, they cannot be the sole purpose for having a business. There has to be concern for the customer who, after all, is the source of those profits. Happy customers keep coming back for more. When customers are happy the profits will take care of themselves. Why try to be a multimillionaire and unhappy when you can be a millionaire and be happy?

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