Former Whitmer Aide Turned GM Lobbyist Raises Concerns Over EV Funding

George W. Cook III, who was instrumental in advancing Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s billion-dollar funding initiative for electric vehicle (EV) projects, has now assumed a senior lobbyist role at General Motors (GM). This move casts a spotlight on the revolving door between state government and the auto industry, raising ethical questions about the use of state funds for EV developments.

Cook, who served as Whitmer’s top legislative aide, played a key role in the creation and passage of the Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve (SOAR) program. This program initially allocated $1 billion to attract private investments, primarily for EV projects. Shortly after its approval, GM, with the collaboration of Whitmer and CEO Mary Barra, announced significant investments in EV manufacturing, becoming the first company to benefit from SOAR funds.

Since Cook left Whitmer’s administration in May 2022, the SOAR fund has doubled to $2 billion. Critics argue that the program’s flexibility allows for politically motivated allocations. “The SOAR program allows the state to give whatever company lawmakers want however much money they want to give them,” said James Hohman, director of fiscal policy at the Mackinac Center. “This is not how budgeting is supposed to work, it’s not how economic development is supposed to work.”

Cook’s career trajectory has raised eyebrows. After leaving Whitmer’s office, he joined Kellanova as senior director of state government relations, and in April, he moved to GM as its Midwest regional director of state and local public policy. This transition from a government role to lobbying for a major beneficiary of SOAR funds underscores potential conflicts of interest.

“This situation shows that the ‘all-electric future’ promoted by liberals is just another pay-for-play scheme where corporate donors reward loyal politicians and their staff for funneling taxpayer dollars their way,” said Abby Mitch, executive director of Michigan Rising Action.

Despite the significant financial commitments to EV projects, the Whitmer administration has faced criticism for its lack of transparency and the involvement of companies with connections to the Chinese Communist Party. For instance, Ford Motor Company and EV battery makers Gotion and Our Next Energy have received additional SOAR funding, but these projects have met with local opposition and concerns about secrecy in deal-making.

The rapid expansion of SOAR and Cook’s new lobbying role at GM highlight the complex interplay between government policy and corporate interests. As Michigan continues to allocate substantial taxpayer funds to support the EV industry, the ethical and practical implications of these decisions remain contentious.

Governor Whitmer’s office has not responded to requests for comment, and General Motors has declined to discuss the specifics of Cook’s hiring, though they noted his extensive experience in the auto industry. Meanwhile, the debate over the best use of state funds and the transparency of government-industry relationships continues to intensify.