Thursday’s feisty vice presidential debate included one exchange on energy, specifically clean-energy stimulus funding — and that one exchange included a number of distortions and lies, courtesy of one Congressman Paul Ryan.
The back-and-forth was largely about Solyndra, though the company’s name was never mentioned. Ryan tried to paint the Energy Department’s stimulus-funded loan program for cleantech companies as a cesspool of corruption and waste: “green pork” and “crony capitalism and corporate welfare.” Joe Biden defended the stimulus spending — as have so many outside observers — and pointed out that Ryan eagerly sought some of that “green pork” for his own Wisconsin district.
Let’s check out some quotes and some fact-checking:
Ryan: “Look at just the $90 billion in stimulus. … $90 billion in green pork to campaign contributors and special interest groups.”
Here’s what AP has to say:
Dismissing an entire package of energy stimulus grants and loans as “green pork” ignores the help that was given to people to make their homes more energy efficient, grants to public entities constructing high speed rail lines and tax credits to manufacturers to install equipment fostering cleaner energy.
To be sure, there were notable failed investments, such as $528 million to the politically connected and now-bankrupt solar power company Solyndra. But Ryan’s claim made it sound like every penny went down the drain.
More broadly, economists are nearly universal in saying Obama’s $800 billion-plus stimulus passed in early 2009 helped create both public-sector and private-sector jobs, even if they fell short of what sponsors had hoped. Douglas Elmendorf, director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, estimated the stimulus saved or created more than 3 million jobs.
And how about Ryan’s charge that the money went to “campaign contributors and special interest groups”? A small portion went to companies whose investors included campaign contributors, but some of them were Republican campaign contributors, as The New York Times reported last week when it was fact-checking Romney’s lies about the $90 billion.
Biden: “[Ryan’s] colleague runs an investigative committee, spent months and months and months going into this. Months and months. They found no evidence of cronyism.”
Biden: “[Ryan] sent me two letters saying, ‘By the way, can you send me some stimulus money for companies here in the state of Wisconsin?’ We sent millions of dollars. … I love that. This was such a bad program and he writes me a letter saying — writes the Department of Energy a letter saying, ‘The reason we need this stimulus, it will create growth and jobs.’ His words.
As The Boston Globe reported two months ago, “In 2009, as Rep. Paul D. Ryan was railing against President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package as a ‘wasteful spending spree,’ he wrote at least four letters to Obama’s secretary of energy asking that millions of dollars from the program be granted to a pair of Wisconsin conservation groups.”
Ryan: “Was it a good idea to spend taxpayer dollars on electric cars in Finland, or on windmills in China?”
Fact-check: Mostly false, according to PolitiFact:
In fact, the program that provided loan guarantees for the Fisker cars was not part of the stimulus — and the cars were supposed to built in the United States.
As for the windmills in China, it’s true that a small number of windmills and components to build them came from China. But the statement greatly exaggerates China’s role in the overall use of stimulus money.
On balance, we rate the claim Mostly False.
Grist’s David Roberts debunked the bogus charges against Finland-based Fisker Automotive in a post last year.
Just to put all of this in broader perspective, here’s some fact-checking from The New York Times on “Waste and the Stimulus”:
Mr. Ryan charged that the stimulus, which Mr. Biden oversaw and was sometimes described as the “sheriff” of, was plagued by waste. But while there was plenty of second-guessing about some of the uses that the $787 billion stimulus was put to, very little of the money was lost to outright criminal fraud, according to government officials.
Michael Wood, the executive director of the Recovery Board, which oversaw the spending, said in a statement last month that out of the $276 billion that the stimulus allocated for contracts, grants and loans to tens of thousands of recipients, officials had documented only $11.1 million lost to fraud. …
“For a program with so much money in the pipeline,” he wrote, “the fraud numbers are surprisingly low.”
At least Romney and Ryan are consistent on one thing: not letting fact-checkers dictate their campaign.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, no, climate change didn’t get a single mention during the debate.
Get Grist in your inbox