Politics

Meet Barack Obama’s GreenTech connection

Meet Barack Obama’s GreenTech connection

Rick C. Wade is an exceptionally busy man.  

The former Obama cabinet official helped run the president’s latest campaign while simultaneously serving as a Democratic Party executive and vice president of GreenTech Automotive, the “green car” company owned by Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe.Besides Wade, the venture has attracted other high-profile political insiders: Bill Clinton appeared at a company launch party. Hillary Clinton’s brother Anthony Rodham runs the firm’s foreign-investor outreach. Former Republican National Committee chair and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour used a mix of grants and tax holidays to persuade McAuliffe to build Greentech in Mississippi.

But Wade might be the insider who carries the most weight.

Following a senior adviser role in Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, Wade was named interim director of the Department of Commerce and later became the department’s chief of staff and spokesman. While there, he helped craft Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus bill — the one that hyped such green-energy projects as the now-bankrupt Solyndra and even sent money overseas to aid production of green ventures in foreign countries. Wade got an education in cars via the president’s Auto Recovery Task Force, a $25 billion effort to prop up the failing U.S. auto industry.

The Commerce Department job also allowed Wade to hone a skill that might explain his value to GreenTech: he became a U.S. envoy on Chinese and Asian trade.

GreenTech’s majority owners have ties to China and the company seeks to raise capital from that country. It is mired in controversy over its use of a program here called EB-5, which allows foreign nationals to obtain U.S. visas in exchange for their investment in targeted U.S. companies. Each investment must produce at least 10 jobs.

In a retraction demand and lawsuit it filed against Watchdog, GreenTech, which has refused otherwise to respond to numerous requests for comment over several months, asserts, “Phase one of construction at (the Tunica, Miss., site) is complete and the project remains on schedule to be finished as projected.”

But so far the GreenTech assembly line has not produced enough cars to fill up dealerships around the U.S. At first, GreenTech tried to set up shop in McAuliffe’s home state of Virginia. But that venture disintegrated – ironically after Gov. Tim Kaine’s office questioned the company’s use of EB-5 funds. In a reportone Kaine official said she “still can’t get my head around this being anything other than a visa-for-sale scheme with potential national security implications that we have no way to confirm or discount.” Another said the state’s approval of the project despite apparent shortcomings could give the commonwealth “a black eye.”

McAuliffe then found a supporter in Mississippi’s Barbour.Wade came on board in 2011 while simultaneously joining Obama’s re-election campaign. He spent the next year cultivating votes for the president in North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida, states with no apparent connection to GreenTech.

At the same time, Wade founded a public relations firm, The Wade Group, which is a “global business development” company, according to LinkedIn.

A phone call and email seeking comment from Wade were not returned.

But you can hear something in Wade’s speeches while in the administration, something philosophical that also likely appealed to McAuliffe and the GreenTech executive team: faith in government regulation.

Speaking to a group of Michigan business leaders shortly after Obama’s first inauguration, Wade described the important role government would play in rebuilding the U.S. economy following the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

“We know very well that lawmakers don’t invent. But the government does create the conditions — the framework — in which businesses operate. And that matters,” he said. “This administration is trying to rebuild the physical and the regulatory infrastructure that private sector businesses need to thrive.”

Now, at GreenTech Automotive, Wade is helping build a business that depends primarily on the stimulus of Mississippi giveaways and a federal program that collects cash from desperate foreigners hoping for a green card.

Contact Tori Richards at tori@watchdog.org or on twitter at @newswriter2.

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