SunPower has become entangled in a lawsuit directed at the US Departments of the Interior, Treasury and Navy. Judicial Watch, an organization that investigates government corruption and Human Events, a weekly American conservative magazine, filed a Freedom of Information (FOIA) act to sue the Obama administration on February 1, 2012.
The organizations state the aforementioned governmental departments are withholding records relating to claims that the Department of Energy has offered a US$1.2 billion government loan guarantee on or around September 20, 2011, to SunPower, California-based solar company, reportedly with a debt of US$820 million. Judicial Watch has suggested there is a possibility a loan was also offered to NRG Energy.
Judicial Watch’s FOIA request asks for details of any written communication between employees of the Departments of Interior and Treasury, Lang, Hansen, O'Malley and Miller (a government relations firm headquartered in Sacramento, California) and SunPower or NRG Energy. It is also insisting on access to records pertaining to a visit to SunPower's Richmond, California production facility on October 14, 2010, by Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar, US Congressman George Miller III, amongst others. The FOIA request submitted to the Department of the Navy sought access to “any and all records regarding, concerning or related to the US$100,268,000 firm-fixed-price task order awarded to SunPower on September 30, 2011.” Miller's involvement in SunPower has been the subject of several investigative pieces in Human Events magazine.
The magazine has reported that Congressman Miller is known for being a champion for SunPower, which has operated a solar panel manufacturing facility in his district, and pushed for the loan guarantees: “In support of the loan request, Rep. George Miller III, the co-chairman of the policy and steering committee for House Democrats, wrote a letter to the Department of Energy and led Secretary of the Interior Kenneth L. Salazar on an Oct. 14, 2010, tour of the company's facility in Richmond, Calif.”
“SunPower may make the Solyndra scandal seem like small potatoes,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch. “And just like Solyndra, the SunPower loan is tainted by corruption, influence peddling and terrible judgment. In the wake of the public outrage over Solyndra, the Obama administration clearly intends to cover up the details of yet another risky and corrupt government bailout. We expect our lawsuits will break through the Obama administration stone wall.”
All three agencies have acknowledged receipt of Judicial Watch's FOIA requests but are yet to respond within the statutory allotted time frame. According to Judicial Watch, the agencies have not provided any documents, neither have they demonstrated that the documents are exempt from the FOIA request, nor has there been any indication of when the documents would be produced.