Mitt Romney makes surprise campaign stop at Solyndra factory

Mitt Romney made a surprise campaign stop Thursday at Solyndra, the solar company that filed for bankruptcy last year after receiving more than $500 million in federal loan guarantees from the Energy Department.

Flanked by a large "For Sale" sign outside the factory that once housed the solar panel manufacturer, Romney derided the plant as a "symbol of gross waste."

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"This building, this half a billion-dollar taxpayer investment, represents a serious conflict of interest on the part of the president and his team," Romney said, according to CNN. "It's also a symbol of how the president thinks about free enterprise. Free enterprise to the president means taking money from the taxpayers and giving it freely to his friends."

Romney went on to accuse the Obama Administration of "crony capitalism" in funding the green energy company, and bemoaned that taxpayers were "stuck with losing half a billion dollars in the deal."

Romney's trip to Solyndra was shrouded in secrecy. The campaign did not inform its traveling press corps of the location until shortly before arriving. According to The New York Times, a Romney adviser told reporters on the bus the campaign was concerned the Obama administration would attempt to prevent the candidate from campaigning at the headquarters.

President Obama famously toured the plant in 2010, touting the company as “leading the way toward a brighter and more prosperous future.”

Romney has hammered the president on the failure of Solyndra during recent stops on the campaign trail, comparing his work as a venture capitalist at Bain Capital to the government's investment in the company.

"Then there's the president's policy to become a venture capitalist," Romney said Wednesday night at a campaign stop in Silicon Valley, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. "That's a tough job. We've got a few venture capitalists in the audience tonight, I know. He's decided he can do it better than you guys can."

At the fundraising stop Wednesday, Romney said the Solyndra investment is an example of how the Obama administration is harming the economy by "picking winners and losers" and making private businesses less likely to invest.

“Have you seen the Solyndra corporation headquarters? You probably have,” Romney asked. “That’s what happens when government puts in hundreds of millions of dollars into an enterprise.

"And by the way, the president doesn’t understand, when you invest like that in one solar energy company, it makes it harder for solar technology generally because the scores of other entrepreneurs in the solar field suddenly lost their opportunity to get capital. Who wants to put money into a solar company when the government puts half a billion into one of its choice? So instead of encouraging solar energy, he discouraged it.”

The Solyndra attacks come the week after the Obama campaign portrayed Romney's business career as harmful to workers and companies in a series of advertisements.  

White House press secretary Jay Carney defended the government's investment in Solyndra on Tuesday, after a Romney-campaign Web ad criticized the president for the loan aid.

"I would simply say what we've said all along, which is that this president is committed to the proposition that we will not cede the industries of the future to the Chinese or the Europeans or the Brazilians or the Indians, or any other nation," Carney said. "Clean tech industries will continue to grow. And some, apparently, in this country are willing to see those industries developed and the jobs created, those industries created in other countries than the United States."

Updated at 3:29 p.m.

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