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Romney-backed Konarka solar panel firm files for bankruptcy

A solar-panel manufacturer that received $1.5 million in state loans during Mitt Romney’s tenure as Massachusetts governor has filed for bankruptcy.


Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R). (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

Republicans have frequently criticized the Solyndra episode as a waste of taxpayer money and an example of what they describe as the Obama administration’s “crony capitalism.”

But the failure of Konarka would appear to leave Romney vulnerable to criticism that he, too, supported government “picking winners and losers” in private industry.

The Obama campaign was quick to seize on the news of Konarka’s bankruptcy, arguing that it represents “a new example of Mitt Romney’s hypocrisy.”

“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,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement. “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.”

Romney’s camp responded by accusing the Obama campaign of trying to divert voters’ attention away from the still-struggling economy. The Romney camp also noted that Konarka CEO Howard Berke has not made contributions to any of Romney’s campaigns.

“President Obama has a lot of questions to answer about why he used taxpayer dollars to reward wealthy campaign donors for bad ideas like Solyndra, yet he is unwilling to focus on creating jobs for the millions of Americans who are struggling,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. “His distortions and distractions will not put a single American back to work.”

Konarka was among the startups that in 2003 were allotted some $24 million in loans from the Massachusetts renewable energy trust fund, according to The Boston Globe.

At a January 2003 news conference at the company’s Lowell headquarters, Romney argued that the loans would serve as “a major economic springboard for the Commonwealth by focusing on job creation in the renewable energy sector,” The Globe reported.

Despite Romney’s touting of the loans in an event at Konarka’s headquarters, campaign aides argued Tuesday that the loan decision was made in December 2002, before Romney took office, and that the move was made by the director of a “quasi-public” agency, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.

Romney’s camp also noted that Konarka received $5 million in state loans under Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) as well as $170 million in private capital, and that later during his tenure as governor Romney sought to divert money away from the trust fund.

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