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Fact Checking Mitt Romney’s Comments That Obama Administration Steered Solyndra Money to ‘Friends and Family’

| May 31, 2012
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Here’s the raw video today of Mitt Romney at Solyndra slamming President Obama, the stimulus, and a “serious conflict of interest on the part of the president and his team.”

Here’s what Romney said:

Two years ago President Obama was here to tout this building and this business as a symbol of the success of his stimulus. Well you can see that’s it a symbol of something very different today. It’s a symbol not of success but of failure. It’s also a symbol of a serious conflict of interest. An independent inspector general looked at this investment and concluded the administration had steered money to friends and family, to campaign contributors. This building, this half-billion taxpayer investment, represents a serious conflict of interest on the part of the president and his team.

Romney went on to claim that the Solyndra loan was an example of “heads and his cronies win, tails and the taxpayers lose.”

The Solyndra loan has certainly been found to be problematic. But Romney’s claim that an inspector general concluded that Obama “steered money to friends and family,” well, that isn’t true.

In 2009, Solyndra was given a $535 million loan guarantee under a Dept of Energy program created by the stimulus bill. In May, 2010, President Obama visited the firm and held it up as an example of the kind of green-energy company the administration was trying to cultivate. But in August of 2011, the firm laid off about 1,100 workers and filed for bankruptcy, providing Republicans with ready-made talking points against some favorite targets: Obama, renewable energy, the stimulus bill, and government involvement in business in general.

A series of negative revelations about the Solyndra loan, packaged by the Republican National Committee here, have provided fodder for GOP-led House hearings and negative advertising. And a Treasury Dept Inspector General audit released in April was titled “Consultation on Solyndra Loan Guarantee Was Rushed.” The report concluded that DOE may not have properly consulted with Treasury about the loan.

And emails released to congressional investigators showed that a former Obama fundraiser who was an Energy Dept advisor pushed administration officials to finalize the loan in time for a visit by VP Joe Biden to Solyndra’s groundbreaking. The advisor, Steve Spinner, had pledged to stay out of the Solyndra deal because his wife’s law firm represented the company.

But, as CBS News reports today: “Republicans have not found evidence to back up claims by some lawmakers that the loan was approved for political reasons.” The fact-checking site PolitiFact has a detailed entry on the Solyndra scandal. Here’s its conclusion about a TV ad that makes the same claim about crony capitalism, Solyndra and Obama that Romney made today. This was written last November:

Solyndra’s story is unfinished. FBI and congressional investigations continue, and more information about the loan guarantee program may yet come to light.

The TV ad says “(President Barack Obama gave) half a billion in taxpayer money to help his friends at Solyndra, a business the White House knew was on the path to bankruptcy.” Some of this is correct, while some isn’t supported by the existing evidence.

First, the money wasn’t Obama’s to give. Solyndra’s request predated his administration, and career Energy Department officials handled the deal.

Second, e-mails so far don’t show an administration pushing through a loan to help Obama’s “friends at Solyndra.” Rather, it appears the administration asked the Energy Department officials to hurry the regular process, so the administration could burnish its stimulus efforts.

Third, while e-mails raised doubts about Solyndra’s liquidity as the Energy Department finalized the loan, those questions were answered by an official who argued investors would step in to protect the project — red flags, yes. But awareness in the White House the company would dissolve? No.

The government wasn’t the only blindsided investor — private investors put up far more, and stand to lose more, than taxpayers.

The Solyndra story might be one of the poor design of the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program — something the Government Accountability Office has pointed out since 2008. And with the congressional investigation ongoing, we may learn more about the Obama administration’s role in the loan program — perhaps better supporting the ad’s claims. For now, though, information in the public record does not support the ad’s claim that the Obama White House is a pay-to-play cash machine for the politically well-connected. We rate this ad’s claim Mostly False.

Earlier today, KQED’s Ian Hill Storified all the Twitter chatter from reporters who were told by the Romney campaign they were being taken somewhere, but not the actual location…

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Category: Environment, Politics

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  • Anonymous

    Poor planning on Mitt’s part. President Obama looking very friendly with the Bushes at the White House today.
    I’m waiting for Mitt to tour with Pete Wilson for Hispanic votes.