US-Export-Import-Bank-via-AFP1The political fight over the Export-Import Bank has been, to most people, the sort of inside baseball politics that they can’t really get emotionally invested in. Quite frankly, it’s hard to get most people to understand what the Export-Import bank even does, much less why it is being attacked by some conservatives in the House as an example of “crony capitalism.” Unfortunately for the Ex-Im bank, they have helpfully given their opponents a huge shell to shoot them with.

For those who don’t know, the Ex-Im bank is a program that is intended to finance American investments overseas. The specific criticism of the bank is that it acts as crony capitalist clearing house that helps to pick winners and losers in the market by approving cheap loans to politically well connected companies and denying them to others. The Bank’s opponents have attacked the bank by pointing out the disparate treatments that apparently similar companies have gotten from the bank when they applied for loans.

Instead of responding to these criticisms by increasing their transparency, the Ex-Im Bank has responded by… instead essentially removing all the public information about whose applications it accepts and rejects:

Critics of the Export-Import Bank are seething over the removal from a government Web site of previously public data earlier they say helps them detect cronyism.

Between January 29 and February 13, officials at the bank removed disclosures listing businesses that applied for financing at the bank but were denied, a source at the bank told The Hill.

“During a regular quarterly review, it was decided to reformat the way data is presented,” the source said. Under the changes, bank officials are no longer disclosing denied applicants.

But critics of the Ex-Im, created to help U.S. companies finance overseas endeavors, say that information helps illuminate how the bank chooses which businesses to finance.

Here’s a tip for whoever is running PR for the Ex-Im Bank – if it makes you look bad when people are sifting through your data, the proper response is not to very publicly try to bury all your data from public view. That makes you look not only guilty as hell but also actively crooked, as opposed to merely coincidentally crooked.

Also, just by way of reminder, the Ex-Im Bank is one of the biggest financiers of the Obama Administration’s transparently cronyist green energy scam:

This week, the Obama administration praised the opening of a solar farm in California, which was constructed with the backing of a $1.5 billion loan guarantee from the Department of Energy.

But the project’s critics argue it “reeks of cronyism,” and they’re finding themselves in lockstep with opponents of the controversial Export-Import Bank, as the solar farm’s owners are also some of the bank’s biggest beneficiaries.

Earlier this week, The Daily Signal reported on the inauguration of the Desert Sunlight solar farm, which was built with the backing of a taxpayer-funded loan guarantee from the Department of Energy. Three firms—General Electric, NextEra Energy and Sumitomo Corporation—own the solar farm located in California’s Mojave Desert. First Solar, Inc., a Tempe, Ariz.-based firm, developed it.

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In addition to benefiting from the Department of Energy’s now-defunct 1705 loan program, two of the four firms involved also are significant beneficiaries of funding provided by the Export-Import Bank: General Electric and First Solar.

The Export-Import Bank provides taxpayer-backed loans and loan guarantees to foreign countries and companies for the purchase of U.S. goods. The bank’s charter is set to expire June 30, and lawmakers on Capitol Hill are beginning to wade into the debate over whether it’s life should be extended.

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According to public data, General Electric has benefited from more than $1.3 billion in taxpayer-backed loans and loan guarantees provided by Ex-Im since 2007. The company is often regarded as one of the biggest beneficiaries of Ex-Im funding, alongside Caterpillar and Boeing.

Similarly, First Solar has benefited from hundreds of millions of dollars in loans from the bank.

In 2011, bank officials authorized $573 million to support the company’s projects in India and Canada. Then, in 2012, Ex-Im provided two loans totaling $57.3 million to finance the export of solar panels to India. First Solar manufactured the panels.

The time has come to kill this monstrosity of a political slush fund. Unlike some other programs, Republicans in Congress don’t need to overcome a veto from Obama to kill this program – it will die on its own as of June 30th unless they cave to re-fund it. Given that the Ex-Im Bank is now actively involved in trying to play hide the ball until its charter is renewed, Republicans in Congress should at least refuse funding unless the Bank commits to greater – not less – transparency.