Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Can Al Gore Be A Profiteer Without Profits?

From Private Equity Hub:
Lots of blog buzz today about a NY Times story on Al Gore’s cleantech investments, and if such activity is ethically compatible with his lobbying for environmental legislation that could benefit his portfolio. Not surprisingly, critics see irreconcilable conflict.

The Drudge Report, for example, has a breathless header about ”Gore’s big profits from global warming.” Other outlets have used the term “profiteer,” and even the NYT regurgitates the meme that Gore wants to become the world’s first “carbon billionaire” (without noting it was first coined by virulent climate change skeptic Sen. James Inhofe).

The NYT also rehashed Rep. Marsha Blackburn asking Gore about conflict of interest during a House hearing earlier this year, but without her daft question of whether or not Gore was “aware of… capital firm Kleiner Perkins.” For the record, Gore has been a partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins for more than two years, and listed as such on the Kleiner Perkins website.

What all of this conversation misses, however, is that Gore has not yet profited on any of his cleantech investments via Kleiner Perkins. Let alone profiteered or gotten close to carbon billionaire status (as an aside, how would Gore leapfrog other KP partners to become the first carbon billionaire?).

The reason, of course, is that Kleiner Perkins has not yet sold any of its nearly two dozen cleantech investments. Not Silver Spring ($170m in total VC funding). Not Fisker ($94m). Not Bloom Energy ($165m). Not Miasole ($78m). Not Mascoma ($96m). Not GreatPoint Energy ($150m). Not any of the others. They remain sunk costs, with no guaranteed returns (the nature of capital… err, venture capital).

To be clear, I’m not saying that Gore is above scrutiny. I’m also not saying that his lobbying efforts haven’t paid off for Kleiner portfolio companies (just ask other cleantech VCs about Kleiner, and they turn green with talk of its political connections). Instead, I’m just saying that some present context is in order. As of this moment, Gore has put in far more than he’s taken out. And, given the general dearth of VC cleantech exits, it will probably be that way for a while…