Mitt Romney visited the closed facilities of Solyndra LLC, the solar-panel manufacturer that went bankrupt after receiving a $535 million federal loan guarantee, and called the company a symbol of failure for President Barack Obama’s administration.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee spoke today outside the factory Solyndra constructed with government funds at its headquarters in Fremont, California, terming it “the Taj Mahal of corporate headquarters.” The campaign didn’t disclose the speech location until Romney arrived.
“This building, this half-a-billion dollar taxpayer investment, represents a serious conflict of interest on the part of the president and his team,” Romney said.
The former Massachusetts governor has repeatedly criticized the Obama administration’s decision to extend the $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra, saying it was part of a pattern of rewarding companies and people that supported the president with taxpayer dollars. The family foundation of Obama fundraiser George Kaiser was the company’s biggest investor.
“Free enterprise to the president means taking money from the taxpayers and giving it freely to his friends,” Romney said.
Romney, 65, a co-founder of the Boston-based private-equity firm Bain Capital LLC, sought to use Solyndra’s failure to underscore his central argument that he understands how business works while Obama doesn’t. He also has said the president is hindering corporate success with regulations, including the Dodd-Frank Act that sets new rules for the banking industry in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
The reason “that the turnaround has taken so long to occur, that the recovery has been so tepid, is that the president fails to understand the basic nature of free enterprise in America,” Romney said today. “He thinks that government-dominated decisions like this make America stronger. They make us weaker.”
Solyndra, heralded by Obama in May 2010 as proof that “the promise of clean energy isn’t just an article of faith,” filed for bankruptcy last September, days before the FBI raided its headquarters. The company received its loan guarantee under an Energy Department program in September 2009.
Its demise has sparked investigations by Congress, the FBI and watchdogs at the Energy and Treasury departments.
“If the business had done spectacularly well, the shareholders -- his friends -- would have done very, very well, but the taxpayers would have just gotten their money back,” Romney said. “On the other hand, of course, if the business failed -- as it did -- it’s the taxpayers that get stuck with losing a half a billion dollars.”
Solyndra received funding through a program created under President George W. Bush’s administration that “has supported tens of thousands of jobs across the country,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said today in a news release.
“In fact, both Republican and Democratic administrations advanced Solyndra’s application, and the company was widely praised as successful and innovative both before and after receiving the Department of Energy loan guarantee,” Smith said.
Romney sealed the Republican presidential nomination on May 29 by winning the Texas primary, which gave him more than the required 1,144 delegates.
Since then, Romney’s focus has been on raising campaign cash. He conducted a fundraiser last night in Hillsborough, California, where he was endorsed by two former secretaries of state: Condoleezza Rice, who served under Bush, and George Shultz, who held the post under President Ronald Reagan.
Romney, who holds another fundraiser tonight in Beverly Hills, also attacked Obama over Solyndra at the Hillsborough gathering.
After his speech today, Romney called for new leadership in Syria as he responded to questions from reporters.
“It’s important for us to take whatever action we can as the leader of the free world to help move Syria from being dominated by a ruthless tyrant who’s killing thousands of his own people,” Romney said. “It is important to see a change in leadership in Syria.”
Romney said he met earlier today with more than a dozen leaders of technology companies to discuss immigration concerns, including visas for foreign-born technology workers, education and taxes.
Solyndra is located near Silicon Valley, home to technology giants including Menlo Park-based Facebook Inc., the world’s most popular social-networking company, and Google Inc., the Mountain View-based owner of the world’s most widely used Internet search engine.
-- Editors: Don Frederick, Michael Shepard