How Fundraising Helped Shape Obama's Green Agenda

The White House has backed billions in public subsidies for green-energy technology. How fundraising and policymaking mix in the Obama era

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Brian Blanco / Zuma Press

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Around 2006, Doerr began to shift his focus away from the "bits and bytes" of the Internet to what he called the "batteries and biofuels" of green energy. As of last year, Kleiner Perkins oversaw a fast-growing green-energy portfolio of more than $600 million, including Silver Spring Networks, one of the largest smart-grid providers, and iControl, a company that makes Web-enabled home thermostats. Describing his investments as "missionary" work, Doerr stepped up his political advocacy for the energy savings they could generate. In 2006 he headed a lobbying push that led California lawmakers to adopt the first state limits on carbon emissions, presaging the current high-tech campaign for clean energy in Washington. "I have referred to prior energy policies as really the sum of all lobbyists," Doerr told TIME in February. "My lesson about policy is not to argue about your self-interest," he told a group of smart-grid venture capitalists in late 2009. "Make an argument that is bigger, about jobs or competitiveness, and you are going to change some minds."

The New Plan
Home Star was born last fall. After the recession appeared to hit bottom during the summer, White House officials dodged questions about whether a second stimulus effort would be needed to combat deepening unemployment. But behind the scenes, the call for more job-creating ideas had already gone out to the PERAB. In response, Doerr asked a young San Francisco entrepreneur, Matt Golden, to begin working with a Massachusetts-based energy-efficiency specialist, Stephen Cowell, on a multibillion-dollar plan under which Washington would offer tax breaks for all kinds of consumer purchases and home improvements that reduce energy use. By November, Doerr made his Roosevelt Room presentation, and before long, the Home Star plan was on the President's desk. Doerr sees Home Star as the next step in creating a new national focus on energy conservation that will generate "thousands" of jobs at the same time, say White House aides. "Never before has anybody pulled together a coalition and said we can take this practice — 100,000 or 200,000 science-based home retrofits — to a whole new level," Doerr told TIME.

All that remains is to get the plan through Congress. Doerr and his allies put together a broad coalition to lobby for the money, including big-box retailers like Home Depot and Lowe's and insulation makers such as Owens Corning and Dow Chemical, as well as environmental groups and labor unions. Most important, the plan has a presidential seal of approval. "Everybody on the Hill knows that the President is interested in this," explains Steven Nadel, executive director of one of the groups supporting the deal, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Both the White House and Doerr say they see nothing improper about a campaign donor with direct industry interests helping draft policy for the White House. "The industry people are there as representatives of their industry," explains White House economist Austan Goolsbee, who advises the PERAB. "They are supposed to come and say, 'Here are what the concerns are,' or 'Here are what the interests are for whatever industry, [including] the venture-capital industry, about this.' "

Doerr, meanwhile, has continued to provide financial support to Democrats. On Dec. 21, just weeks after President Obama publicly embraced Home Star, Doerr and his wife Ann each wrote a $15,200 check to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

With reporting by Katy Steinmetz / Washington

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