In 2010, the Wall Street Journal reports, the Clinton Global Initiative set up a $2 million commitment to Energy Pioneer Solutions Inc., a for-profit company with ties to a number of Democratic political operatives and Clinton allies.
Founded in 2009 by Scott Kleeb, a Democrat who ran for Congress from Nebraska twice, the company’s business plan was to insulate people’s homes and allow them to repay the cost through their utility bills. At a September 23, 2010 gathering in New York, the Clinton Global Initiative—a program within the Clinton Foundation that “convenes global leaders to create and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges”—announced the $2 million commitment to Energy Pioneer Solutions from Kim Samuel, a Canadian academic and philanthropist.
The company is mostly owned by Kleeb; Jane Eckert, an art gallery-owner in Pine Plains, N.Y.; and Julie Tauber McMahon of Chappaqua, N.Y. Smaller shares are also held by Democratic National Committee treasurer Andrew Tobias and former Rhode Island Democratic chairman Mark Weiner.
(Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns, in 2008 and 2016, have paid Weiner’s company Financial Innovations Inc. about $4.2 million for souvenir items, like coffee mugs and pens.)
Tax-exempt charitable organizations are required by law to act in the public interest, and IRS guidelines for these 501(c)(3) require that “The organization must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests.”
The $2 million commitment was ultimately placed on the conference’s agenda at President Clinton’s behest, the Journal reports, and over the protestations of Clinton advisor Doug Band, who feared criticism over the company’s connection to McMahon, who owned 29 percent of the business.
According to the New York Post, McMahon is rumored to be a frequent visitor to Clinton’s home in Chappaqua—so frequent that she has a Secret Service codename, “Energizer.” McMahon—who happens to be the daughter of millionaire Democratic donor Joel Tauber—has denied that her relationship with President Clinton is an intimate one, describing him as “a family friend.”
The company also received an $812,000 grant from the Energy Department at the former president’s urging. Though a 2010 news release from the department announced the grant to the “women-owned small business,” the company isn’t really a “women-owned” business: The company was founded by a man and its ownership is majority male. Actually, it sounds like it isn’t much of a business at all. From the Journal:
Energy Pioneer Solutions has struggled to operate profitably. It lost more than $300,000 in 2010 and another $300,000 in the first half of 2011, said records submitted for an Energy Department audit. Mr. Kleeb noted that losses are common at startups.
The audit found deficiencies in how the company accounted for expenses paid with federal grant money, Energy Department records show. The company addressed the deficiencies, and a revised cost proposal was approved in 2011, said an Energy Department spokeswoman, Joshunda Sanders.
Kleeb tells the Journal he recently laid off most of Energy Pioneer Solutions’ staff, closed the offices, and sold his trucks as part of a pivot. “We are right now gearing up to start under this new model,” he said. Asked whether the company ever broke even, he replied, “We’re at that stage…We are expanding and doing well. We have partnerships, and it’s good.”
The commitment, Clinton Foundation spokesman Craig Minassian told the Journal, was an instance of “mission-driven investing…in and by for-profit companies,” which is “a common practice in the broader philanthropic space.”
A Clinton spokesman, Angel Urena, sums it up: “President Clinton counts many [Clinton Global Initiative] participants as friends.”