This weekend, the Boston Herald reported that Korkana, a Massachusetts company that developed solar panels, was going bankrupt and closing down. “The demise of Konarka could become a hot topic on the campaign trail because Romney personally doled out a $1.5 million renewable energy subsidy to the Lowell startup in 2003, shortly after taking office on Beacon Hill,” the Herald wrote.
The Obama campaign blasted out the Herald piece, and Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith seized on the issue. “Every day we see a new example of Mitt Romney’s hypocrisy,” she said in a statement. “Just one day after he pulled a political stunt outside Solyndra, we learned even more about his record of picking winners and losers in Massachusetts when one of the companies he gave a loan to went bankrupt. Mitt Romney may think he can play by a different set of rules, but he can’t hide his history of giving millions of dollars in government loans to campaign donors.”
So is it true that Korkana is another Solyndra? Not exactly. For one thing, Massachusetts taxpayers got their money back: “Asked about the comparisons to Solyndra, [Korkana CEO Howard] Berke pushed back by noting his company had paid back the $1.5 million loan,” reported Politico. And Solyndra’s $535 million dollar loan was significantly larger, too. Politico also reported that Romney backers gave a different view than the Herald did about Romney’s role in the loan to Korkana:
The GOP campaign noted that Massachusetts officials approved Konarka’s loan application for a new pilot production assembly line in December 2002, the month before Romney was sworn in. And even if Romney had been in office then, the agency that greenlighted the loan wasn’t under the direct control of the governor.
Later in his term, Romney tried to defund the underlying green energy financing program.
However, Berke paints a different picture of Romney’s involvement with Korkana:
In an interview in February, Berke said Romney gave an enthusiastic speech about Konarka during the January 2003 news conference, noting how the company was spun out of research at the University of Massachusetts Lowell with the help of co-founder Alan Heeger, a Nobel laureate.
“The governor was quite supportive of us being a very exciting new startup in the state,” Berke told POLITICO.
It’s fair to argue over whether the government should ever be giving out loans to private companies. But in both amount given and in outcome (Massachusetts’ loan to Korkana was paid back), Korkana is no Solyndra.