When the White House announced the federal government would loan $465 million to Tesla, a California start-up company with plans to develop an all-electric sedan, President Obama called it an "historic opportunity to ensure that the next generation of fuel-efficient cars and trucks are made in America."
The loan also represented a lucrative opportunity for Steve Westly, a major investor in the car company who had raised more than $500,000 for the president's campaign.
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy directed more than half a billion dollars in loans and grants to companies backed by Westly's California venture capital firm. In 2010, the White House tapped Westly for a seat on a special energy advisory panel that gives him regular access to Energy Secretary Steven Chu. Westly boasts on his website that his firm is "uniquely positioned" to take advantage of the Obama administration's interest in green energy.
Congress has given the Energy Department authority to distribute billions of dollars in public funds to help stimulate the economy and seed a new generation of clean energy firms. A joint investigation by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity that will air on World News with Diane Sawyer tonight has found that Westly is just one of several political allies of the president who have ties to companies receiving chunks of that money through loans, grants, or loan guarantees.
CLICK HERE to read the Center for Public Integrity's story on Steve Westly.
The department lent $528 million to Fisker Automotive, whose electric car is being financed by a venture capital firm run by billionaire Obama supporter John Doerr -- a firm that touts former Vice President Al Gore as a board member. And, a $535 million federal loan guarantee was used to help a California solar cell company whose major investors include George Kaiser, an Oklahoma billionaire who raised between $50,000 and $100,000 for Obama during the 2008 election.
CLICK HERE to watch an ABC News reporter attempt to question Steve Westly.
"I think what happens is they give some of this money out to people who are either contributors or strong supporters," said Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican who chairs a House Energy subcommittee that is looking into the loan program. "I think in the long term we have to worry about the United States government guaranteeing loans for businesses based perhaps upon favoritism."
Both the White House and the Energy Department have adamantly denied that political supporters of the president have had any edge as they competed with hundreds of applicants for loans and loan guarantees.
"Grants and loans are competitively awarded on the basis of merit," said Reid Cherlin, a White House spokesman.
"Attending two meetings of a non-binding, public advisory panel hardly gave companies supported by Steve Westly a leg up -- especially considering the board has no decisionmaking role, isn't involved in making grants or loans, and never even discussed those companies," said Stephanie Mueller, an Energy Department spokeswoman, in an email to ABC News. "The funds were awarded long before he joined the board, and Tesla's competitors were awarded billions of dollars more than Tesla. Our goal isn't to help any particular investor; it's to ensure that America leads the world in manufacturing the next generation of high technology vehicles."