Over the weekend the Wall Street Journal had an article about the wind energy investments of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. The Journal article includes an interview with the chairman of a Berkshire-owned utility, MidAmerican, David Sokol, and notes that Mr. Sokol "has said the wind-power industry still requires government support." The Journal doesn't really follow up on the point, but for Mr. Buffett and Mr. Sokol, this isn't just an abstract belief. On September 22, 2009, the Treasury Department and the Department of Energy announced a $93,419,883 grant for the Barton Wind Farm in Kinsett, Iowa, which, according to this report, is owned by MidAmerican. "This Recovery Act program is an example of a true federal partnership with the private sector," Treasury Secretary Geithner said in announcing the grant. During the Reagan administration, there was a catch-phrase for the poor who got government subsidies, sorry, were in "partnership" with the government -- "welfare Cadillac." Welfare for the poor was reformed under the Clinton presidency and the Gingrich Congress, but welfare for the rich seems to be going strong. What's the right catchphrase? Welfare windmill? Warren Buffett, welfare queen? Welfare Netjet? We don't mean to single out Mr. Buffett -- we've been focusing here on the way the windmill subsidy is a wealth transfer to the rich for quite some time, in a variety of cases. In any of these "partnerships" between federal government and the private sector, the people who really prosper are the lobbyists and the politicians' campaign coffers. Senate records (ignored by the Wall Street Journal) indicate MidAmerican reported spending $1.5 million on lobbying just in the third quarter of 2009. Federal Election Commission records (ignored by the Wall Street Journal) indicate that its affiliated political action committee, the MidAmerican Energy Company Executive PAC, to which Mr. Sokol is a contributor, has spent tens of thousands of dollars over the years supporting politicians such as Rep. Tom DeLay. In 2008 and 2009 the MidAmerican Energy Company Executive PAC gave a total of $10,000 to the Hawkeye Pac of Senator Grassley, a Republican of Iowa, and $10,000 to the campaign of Michael Johanns to win election as a Republican Senator of Nebraska. So don't be fooled by all of Mr. Buffett's appearances with Democratic presidential candidates Obama and Clinton. This is another example of the way both parties in Washington participate. It's Washington as vending machine -- insert lobbying fees and campaign contributions, extract tax breaks and government subsidies.
Berkshire's 'Green' Bets