Mitt Romney arrived at the shuttered headquarters of Solyndra Inc. this morning, a surprise visit that was shrouded in secrecy and part of the presumptive GOP presidential candidate's attack on President Obama's record on jobs creation.
"Two years ago President Obama was here to tout this building and this business as a symbol of the success of his stimulus," said Romney, stepping off a bus and onto the public sidewalk in front of the Solyndra buildings just outside Silicon Valley. "Well you can see that it's a symbol of something very different today."
"It's a symbol not of success but of failure," he said. "It's also a symbol of a serious conflict of interest. An independent inspector general looked at this investment and concluded that the administration had steered money to friends and family - to campaign contributors. 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," said Romney. "Free enterprise to the president means taking money from the taxpayers and giving it freely to his friends."
"You look at this building behind us; this is not the kind of building that is built by private enterprise," he said. "This is the kind of enterprise - the kind of building - that's built with half a billion dollars of taxpayers money. It's not just the Taj Mahal of corporate headquarters. you probably also heard that inside there are showers that have LCD displays that tell what the temperatures are of the shower water. and the robots inside actually provide Disney music tunes."
Solyndra is the failed California-based solar technology company that received more than $500 million in federal stimulus money before it went bankrupt last year. It has since become a mantle of Romney's argument that Obama doesn't know how to run the economy.
Beginning in March 2011 , ABC News, in partnership with iWatch News-The Center for Public Integrity, was first to report on simmering questions about the role political influence might have played in Solyndra's selection as the Obama administration's first loan-guarantee recipient. Federal auditors had flagged the loan, saying some applicants had benefited from special treatment.
Romney's visit was only revealed after Romney and reporters who follow him on the campaign trail were en route to the location. It was never advised publicly by the campaign, which usually informs both national and local reporters where the candidate will appear.
"The reason for keeping it quiet is because we knew if word got out that Solyndra would do everything in their power and the Obama administration would do everything in their power to stop us from having this news conference," an aide said in a briefing en route. "But taxpayers made a substantial investment in Solyndra, there are serious questions about what happened at Solyndra, why that investment was selected, what happened to that money."
The Romney campaign this week rejiggered its focus on Solyndra, which was a major talking point for Romney during the primary, in an attempt to highlight what it calls Obama's mishandling of the economy, but has lately been replaced with a focus on Obama's health care law and education issues.
Romney's visit to the shuttered plant comes on the same day that Obama's top strategist, David Axelrod, held a news conference in Boston, the city where Romney's campaign headquarters is located, to discuss the Republican candidate's record as governor. Axelrod's appearance will mark one of the first steps in the Obama re-election campaign's strategy to highlight Romney's record during his years as Massachusetts' governor.
The Romney campaign earlier this week released a video, " Not Even Half," which highlighted the Obama administration's investment in the now-failed Fremont, Calif., manufacturer. At the time of the federal investment, Solyndra was the nation's largest solar energy plant and was touted as an example of the president's commitment to government subsidies that would promote clean energy technology and so-called green jobs.
Solyndra went bankrupt in 2011, laying off more than 1,000 employees, after receiving $535 million in federal loan guarantees through a 's Act program. The investment has been slammed by Republicans who believe the Obama administration chose the plant because of its ties to major donors. It has been the subject of an ongoing congressional investigation.
When the company went bankrupt, taxpayers were left to pay off the loans associated with the grant and Republicans seized on the investment as an example of the administration's, as Romney says, trying to pick "winners and losers" in the free market that would benefit high dollar donors.
At a private fundraiser in Hillsborough, Calif., Wednesday night, Romney previewed his attacks on the administration's involvement in Solyndra.
"Have you seen Solyndra's corporate headquarters?" Romney asked. "You probably have."
"Who wants to put money in a solar company when a government puts a half a billion into one of its choice?" Romney asked, suggesting that investors and entrepreneurs would be less likely to found their own companies if they believe the government would help a competitor. "They don't understand how the free economy works."
During a February campaign speech in Nevada, Romney made similar claims, comparing his own experience starting office supply giant Staples during his time at Bain to the facilities at Solyndra, which he often compares to the Taj Mahal.
"He's been choosing businesses that add to his campaign, and putting money in them," Romney said during a February campaign rally in Henderson, Nev. "When we started a little company called Staples, instead of having offices in a big glass Taj Mahal, like Solyndra, our offices were in the back of a shopping mall.
"So his view is what I call 'crony capitalism,'" Romney said. "Give money to your friends that contributed to your campaign. That's crony capitalism."