FORTUNE -- It happened again. During last night's presidential debate, Mitt Romney implied that campaign contributions to President Obama had influenced green energy investments by the Department of Energy.
Never mind that there is no evidence to support such a charge, following multiple independent investigations. Never mind that Romney has been caught lying about such things in the past, in regards to Solyndra. All that matters is winning, truth be damned.
Here was the relevant comment, which came shortly before the debate's conclusion:
You put $90 billion into -- into green jobs. And -- and I -- look, I'm all in favor of green energy. Ninety billion (dollars) -- that -- that would have -- that would have hired 2 million teachers. Ninety billion dollars. And these businesses -- many of them have gone out of business. I think about half of them, of the ones have been invested in, they've gone out of business. A number of them happened to be owned by -- by people who were contributors to your campaigns.
Let's quickly get two other things out of the way: (1) $90 billion would not have hired 2 million teachers, given that the average teacher salary in America is $56,000. It comes out to around 1.6 million teachers, or many fewer if you factor benefits into the equation. (2) Half of the green energy companies that have received federal dollars have not gone out of business. In fact, of those receiving Department of Energy Loan guarantees (including Solyndra), the failure percentage is closer to 17%.
Okay, back to the crony capitalism suggestion.
It certainly is true that many of the green energy companies that received federal investment were, at least in part, owned by folks who contributed to President Obama. And it's entirely understandable. After all, the majority of investors in young cleantech companies happen to be wealthy, interested in environmental issues and based in or around San Francisco. In other words, stereotypical Obama donors. In fact, had DoE steered clear of all green energy loan applicants with financial ties to Obama's campaign, it would have been picking from a pretty small pool.
Now I know what some of you are thinking: That's the very point. Obama raised all this money from green energy backers, and he repaid the favor by creating these giant investment programs.
Except that it's not really true. Most of the investment programs include in Romney's $90 billion figure were put in place before Obama even got into office. The actual dollar amounts got boosted by the stimulus, but that's not something that most Obama contributors couldn't have predicted at the time of donation, since the financial collapse (i.e., stimulus justification) had not yet occurred.
Moreover, some of the green energy companies that received DoE dollars also have ties to Romney.
For example, Romney has received direct campaign contributions from two former Solyndra board members (who also were investors in the company). He also indirectly invests (via his son's fund-of-funds) with a VC firm whose portfolio includes a solar technology company that received DoE money via one of the programs included in Romney's $90 billion figure. He has stock in companies like Google (GOOG) that hold large equity stakes in DoE loan recipients. And he is invested in numerous hedge funds managed by Goldman Sachs, the same firm that took Tesla Motors (TSLA) public and tried to do the same for Solyndra.
So what does all of this tell us? Little more than that when we're talking about corporate recipients of government largesse, there are bound to be financial connections to politicians.
What matters is not so much that such connections exist, but if there is any evidence that the connections are causal (i.e., actual crony capitalism). In the case of Obama and the green energy companies, no such evidence exists. Despite the fact that certain GOP politicians have tried very, very hard to find it.
Romney may think that fudging the facts on this will help him win the presidency, but he should be careful if such a strategy is successful. Next time, he'll be on the receiving end. And it will be equally unfair.
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The solar energy market is not 'make believe.'
FORTUNE -- It's no secret that Republicans view Solyndra as the corporate embodiment of everything that is wrong with the Obama administration. It received federal loans through a stimulus they opposed, its largest existing investor had ties to a major Obama fundraiser and the company's collapse cost taxpayers around half a billion dollars.
But last night Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) trotted out a new MOREDan Primack - Aug 30, 2012 5:06 PM ET
"Guilt by association" can cut across party lines.
FORTUNE -- House Republicans reportedly are delving deeper into the Department of Energy loan guarantee for BrightSource Energy, following a recent WSJ article on the solar company's pre-loan lobbying efforts (including by a former chief of staff to Vice President Biden). In other words, did BrightSource get its money honestly, or did it engage in crony capitalism?
To be clear, I think such questions MOREDan Primack - Jun 13, 2012 4:23 PM 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 MOREDan Primack - Jun 4, 2012 8:44 AM ET
A lost opportunity to end the Solyndra debate.
R. Todd Neilson has an impressive resume. Ex-special agent with the FBI. Founder of his own financial consultancy. Bankruptcy trustee for clients like Mike Tyson, and negotiator for sales of assets that included interests in luxury hotels and NHL franchises.
But when Neilson took his talents to Solyndra, he blew it. Big time.
Last October, Neilson was appointed by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware to MOREDan Primack - Mar 27, 2012 2:01 PM ET
The former FBI agent charged with investigating Solyndra today filed a 204-page report with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. Roger Parloff. Go here for Roger Parloff's analysis, which included an interview with the investigator.
The entire report is below:
View this document on ScribdDan Primack - Mar 27, 2012 11:34 AM ET
On Solyndra, let's stick to real arguments.
Regular readers know that I consider Solyndra to be a bad investment, rather than some Obama Administration conspiracy to help out wealthy donors. But that doesn't mean I'm down with disingenuous attacks on GOP Congressmen who have been beating the dead solar company.
Check out the following headline today from HuffingtonPost:
This has been sitting near the top of the left-leaning news site all day, and MOREDan Primack - Mar 22, 2012 3:50 PM ET
Solyndra sells its core assets for a pittance.
After Solyndra went bankrupt last summer, critics kept complaining that the Department of Energy had approved a loan restructuring plan that made Argonaut Private Equity senior to U.S. taxpayers. In other words, an affiliate of Obama donor George Kaiser would get repaid first (so would a Wal-Mart heir, but that seemed to go unnoticed).
As I've written before, the only scandal in that arrangement was MOREDan Primack - Mar 7, 2012 12:24 PM ET
Obama's friends aren't "sitting pretty" Solyndra.
Everyone seems to have an opinion about Solyndra, the solar panel maker that went bankrupt last summer after burning through more than $1.5 billion of public and private financing. But not everyone is entitled to their own facts.
This brings us to conservative columnist Michelle Malkin, who yesterday wrote a column titled "Obama's Green Robber Barons." She's got some pretty broad syndication, so it's worth rebutting MOREDan Primack - Jan 25, 2012 2:52 PM ET
My eyes have glazed over. I'm hungry, dumber than I was this morning and very angry with myself.
Don't be coy, you know what I'm copping to having done: I spent almost the entire workday watching yet another Congressional hearing on the Solyndra "scandal."
This is at least the third such hearing, all in a flailing effort by GOP reps to prove that Solyndra wasn't simply an honest loan gone bad, but MOREDan Primack - Nov 17, 2011 4:55 PM ET
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