FREMONT, Calif.— Mitt Romney made a secretive trip to the shuttered headquarters of the Solyndra solar-energy company, arguing it was a symbol of “crony capitalism” that received federal loan guarantees because of its ties to the Obama administration, and asserting that it showed the president’s lack of understanding of how the economy works.
“It’s a symbol not of success but of failure. It’s also a symbol of a serious conflict of interest,” Romney told reporters across the street from the glass building, reiterating a Republican charge that the firm received a $535-million federal loan guarantee because one of its largest investors is a major fundraiser for Obama.
“This building, this half-a-billion-dollar taxpayer investment, represents a serious conflict of interest on the part of the president and his team. It’s also a symbol of how the president thinks about free enterprise. Free enterprise to the president means taking money from the taxpayers and giving it freely to his friends.”
Romney’s visit to Solyndra was unusually secretive, with the campaign closely guarding details of the event. Reporters, who typically receive advance notice about where and when campaign events will occur, were told to gather in a hotel parking lot in Redwood City for a bus trip to an undisclosed location. Romney rode with the press in the bus.
The plan was not-so-secret – rumors circulated on Wednesday that Romney would head to Solyndra, and at least seven satellite trucks were awaiting his arrival there Thursday morning. And his trip to Fremont, accompanied by a motorcade of secret service agents, CHP officers and a large bus with his name on it, was not subtle.
A person affiliated with the campaign said that they didn’t want to provide advance notice of the event because they feared that either the Obama administration or people affiliated with Solyndra would try to stop it from taking place. Romney reiterated that when asked about it by reporters.
“I think there are people who don’t want to see this event occur, don’t want to have questions asked about this particular investment, don’t want to have people delve into the idea that the president took a half-a-billion dollars of taxpayer money and devoted it to an enterprise that was owned in large measure by his campaign contributors,” he said. “This is a serious conflict of interest. This ought to be a big story, and I think there are a number of people among the president’s team who don’t want that story to get out. We wanted to make sure it did.”
Democrats pointed out that the program from which Solyndra received the loan guarantee was signed into law by President George W. Bush, but Romney countered that Obama’s administration approved the Solyndra deal itself.
The Obama campaign held a competing news conference Thursday to note that Massachusetts was 47thin the nation for job creation. Romney said he was proud of his work reducing unemployment while governor.
“We took the unemployment rate from 5.6% down to 4.7%. I think 4.7%’s a pretty good number. My guess is the people of America would be very pleased if they could see a number like 4.7%,” he said. “I’d hope to be able to get there if I were president.”
The Obama event in Boston was interrupted by hecklers who were Romney supporters. Romney said he is frequently protested by Obama supporters.
“At some point you say, you know what, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If they’re going to be heckling us, why, we’re not going to sit back and play by very different rules,” he said. “If the president is going to have his people coming to my rallies, and heckling, why, we’ll show them that, you know, we conservatives have the same kind of capacity he does.”
Romney was wrapping up a two-day swing in Northern California. He spent the bulk of his time raising money, but also met with technology leaders Thursday morning. He was headed in the afternoon to Southern California for three days of fundraisers.