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
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
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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