Here's What You Need To Know About The Romney Campaign's 'Cronyism' Attacks

Mitt Romney

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

After one of his worst weeks of the election, Mitt Romney is trying to regain control of his campaign by going on offence against President Obama over what he alleges is “crony capitalism.”All of the charges Romney cites to back up his claim have been around for months, if not years. Solyndra, for example, has been a GOP punching bag for years, and Romney personally made a big show of visiting its headquarters in May for a press conference attacking Obama. But with his surrogates dredging up old attacks, here’s a quick review of the stories Romney is using to back up his “crony capitalism” charges.

• Solyndra: This one’s been around a long time. The solar company went bankrupt after receiving over $500 million in loan guarantees from the Department of Energy, prompting an outcry and demands for an investigation into how the money was approved. Romney has accused the White House of pushing through the loan to appease green-energy investors who donated to the campaign, a charge that evidence has not supported, despite a year of investigations.

The original clean-energy program was hardly some Democratic scheme: It was created by President Bush, whose administration was already considering Solyndra’s loan application when Obama took office. Nor is Romney able to make much of an argument on pure free market grounds — he picked winners and losers using similar loan programs as governor in Massachusetts.

• Fisker: Under fire for Bain’s investments in companies that outsourced, Romney has tried to turn the tables by accusing Obama of outsourcing via stimulus funding and loan guarantees to clean-energy companies, an industry where a number of investors have donated to Obama’s campaign. Recently, Republicans have drummed up Fisker Automotive, a car company that received loan guarantees for design and engineering work in the United States.

Romney claimed on Monday that the White House approved $500 million in loan guarantees to the company in order to help Democratic investors in Fisker, among them Al Gore’s venture capital firm, and that ultimately the company used the money to create jobs assembling a new car in Finland. But Fisker says Romney is way off base and that the loans, a fraction of which they actually spent, went entirely to financing hundreds of jobs in California and Michigan, with more planned in Delaware. And, like Solyndra, the loan guarantees went through a Bush administration program. Fisker filed its application while Bush was still in office, though it was ultimately approved under Obama.

• Obama’s Bundlers: There’s more truth to this attack from Romney, but the Republican candidate is a uniquely bad messenger to level the charge. Romney and surrogates have blasted Obama for appointing “bundlers,” or top fundraisers, to administration posts. Indeed, a report by the centre for Public Integrity last year found 184 Obama bundlers had taken positions with the White House, including 80 per cent of those who collected more than $500,000 for the campaign.

As the report noted, Obama’s obviously hardly the first administration to engage in such behaviour — especially with ambassadorships, which have for decades been bestowed upon major campaign donors. The White House defended its appointees, saying that being a donor does not preclude people from serving, and that everyone cited in reports was well qualified for the job.

Government watchdog groups were disappointed with Obama, but they were outright flabbergasted when Romney began attacking the administration. For starters, Romney won’t release the names of his bundlers, breaking recent tradition followed by Obama, Bush, John Kerry and John McCain.

Republican lawmakers are currently blocking legislation that would reveal major donors to anonymous money groups, some of which are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the campaign this year. That means if Romney wins, there will be no way to know whether he’s appointing bundlers and outside-money backers at all.

Nor has Romney proposed any kind of new ethics standard. His own campaign and a top surrogate, Ken Cuccinelli, couldn’t name any way they’d thwart donors’ influence when asked Monday. Romney has not embraced Obama’s 2008 pledge to restrict lobbyists from Cabinet posts, nor has he sworn off fundraising through lobbyists, suggesting he’d have even fewer safeguards (however imperfect) blocking special interests.

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