WASHINGTON - Contributors to President Barack Obama's campaign did not influence the decisions on government aid to the now-bankrupt solar panel maker Solyndra, Energy Secretary Steven Chu told National Public Radio.
Chu defended decisions made by the Energy Department on the $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra in his first major interview on what has become a nagging political issue for the Obama administration.
The interview, on Tuesday night, comes just ahead of his testimony to the House Energy and Commerce committee on Thursday, where Republicans probing the loan are expected to grill him on the taxpayer-funded aid to Solyndra.
Republicans have raised questions about whether decisions were made to help George Kaiser, a major investor in Solyndra and a fund-raiser for Obama's 2008 campaign.
"No decision we made in the loan program had anything to do with who is investing in this company," Chu said.
"Who was backing the company had nothing to do with the work of our loan professionals. To what extent they were even aware I can't really say. But certainly, at my level and the people I was talking to, we were not aware of either the Democrat or Republican backers," he said.
When Chu was named Energy Secretary, he made speeding up delivery of loan guarantees to renewable energy companies a top priority. He said he stood by his decision to move fast.
"We improved the process. We did not cut corners. We actually made it more thorough and diligent," Chu said.
The department did its homework on the loan and could not have predicted the plunging price of solar panels that killed the company, which had higher costs than competitors.
"As time went on, there was a growing concern because of the cash flow. And so we certainly were watching this and looking at this very closely. And then eventually, we recognized that they were in deep trouble," Chu said.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)
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