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Romney wrong on Solyndra facts

June 4, 2012: 8:44 AM ET

Solyndra is bad enough on its own. Romney shouldn't lie to make it worse.

FORTUNE -- Part of Mitt Romney's pushback against President Obama's Bain Capital attacks has been to highlight Solyndra, the California-based solar panel maker that went bust after blowing through a $535 million Department of Energy loan (plus far more in private equity funding). Basically something along the lines of: "I'm not the only one with some bad investments on his resume, and it's better to squander private equity than public equity."

So last Thursday Romney held a surprise press conference at Solyndra's shuttered headquarters. During his prepared statement, Romney said:

"An independent inspector general looked at this investment and concluded that the Administration had steered money to friends and family and campaign contributors."

Romney then repeated the claim later in the press conference.

Small problem: No inspector general ever "concluded" such a thing, at least not based on any written reports or public statements.

Romney seemed to be referring to Congressional testimony offered up by Gregory Friedman, inspector general of the U.S. Department of Energy, from March 2011. In it, he said: "We currently have 64 open investigations associated with the Recovery Act… Schemes under investigation include the submission of false information in applications for funding, fraudulent claims for rebates, claims for unallowable or unauthorized expenses, the directing of contracts and grants to friends and family, weatherization fraud to 7 include mischarging, and other attempts to fraudulently obtain Recovery Act funds."

Not only did Friedman never specifically cite Solyndra, but his office never brought charges related to any "directing of contracts and grants to friends and family." A spokeswoman for the DoE Inspector General's office declined to say whether any such investigation remained open, except to say that it never made the type of conclusion asserted by Romney.

In response to my inquiry, a Romney spokeswoman forwarded me a link to a Newsweek piece that mischaracterized Friedman's "friends and family" line (albeit without linking it specifically to Solyndra). She also noted that Obama supporter George Kaiser was the "single largest investor" in Solyndra, even though it actually was the private equity arm of a nonprofit, anti-poverty foundation founded by Kaiser.

When I wrote back for further clarification – or perhaps a retraction – the Romney spokeswoman went radio silent.

It's one thing to spin something to one's advantage. It's another to simply make things up to make the other guy look bad. Romney's Solyndra speech was an example of the latter. Disgraceful.

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About This Author
Dan Primack
Dan Primack
Senior Editor, Fortune

Dan Primack joined Fortune.com in September 2010 to cover deals and dealmakers, from Wall Street to Sand Hill Road. Previously, Dan was an editor-at-large with Thomson Reuters, where he launched both peHUB.com and the peHUB Wire email service. In a past journalistic life, Dan ran a community paper in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He currently lives just outside of Boston.

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