Mitt Romney made a “secretive“ visit to the headquarters of now-defunct Solyndra late last week, for an event that further revealed his campaign’s belief that it can use the failed, government-backed solar company to convince voters that the Obama Administration’s business practices amount to “crony capitalism.” And indeed, if an exhaustive congressional investigation had turned up any evidence that the administration acted illegally in its dealings with Solyndra, Romney would be holding a valuable card. But it didn’t.
One of Romney’s toughest challenges in this election will be to quash the popular notion that he’ll say anything to gain political advantage, regardless of not only his past record but also the very truth of the matter at hand. Since the facts do not support his framing of the Solyndra saga, all he’s doing is reinforcing this characterization.
It is important to keep in mind the historical context here. The DOE program through which Solyndra earned its $535 million loan guarantee has its origins in legislation enacted in 2005. The company was a fast-rising star in the eyes of the Bush administration, which tried to conditionally approve a loan for it just before Obama’s inauguration. (Skyrocketing polysilicon prices made companies like Solyndra, which made cells out of other materials, especially attractive investments before polysilicon prices began to fall in 2008.) The loan program was expanded—and the deal sweetened for companies getting loans—by the 2009 stimulus package. Solyndra got its half billion in September 2009.
Fast forward to 2011. Polysilicon prices have fallen even lower, and the resulting flood of cheap silicon solar panels has transformed the market in a bad way for Solyndra, one of many reasons it goes bankrupt, handing the Republican-held House of Representatives a failure they decide to weaponize for their political war against Obama and his energy policy. California Republican Darrell Issa, head of the House Oversight Committee, launches an investigation into the matter that will drag on for a year. It finds no evidence of wrongdoing.
Now Romney is making covert trips and issuing bold, broad claims based on the premise that Solyndra is an example of Obama’s intent to get his “cronies” paid. The AP blasted the weaknesses of his argument in its latest “fact check.” Factcheck.org joined in too, taking aim at a Romney TV ad trying to make the same case. The bottom line: the Romney campaign would like voters to think it has an ace with Solyndra, but in truth it likely doesn’t even have a face card.