Did they 'build it'?

Posted Tuesday, August 28, 2012 in Analysis

Did they 'build it'?

A sign at the Republican National Convention

by Gina Hamilton

The main theme of the Republican National Convention is a reprise of an earlier campaign theme in which the Romney camp, perhaps deliberately, 'misunderstood' a single President Barack Obama sentence during a town hall meeting. 

Obama was talking with a businessperson about how a business, or a family, needs the community to support them.  The 'for instance' in the actual Obama quote was that the business needed roads and bridges that the community caused to be built in order to move their goods to market.  "You didn't build that," Obama said.

The Romney campaign pounced, and insisted that Obama meant that no businessperson created his or her business alone, which wasn't the case, but never mind, it was enough to create a few ads and a few soundbites, at least until the fact checkers got hold of it and the rest of the country was aware of the context.

But it's baaaack, at the Republican convention.

Some of the speakers who are trotting out to tell their 'job creator' story probably did 'built it' on their own, but others are well-known at this point for having taken government dollars to build or expand their businesses.

For instance, New Hampshire businessman Jack Gilchrist, the owner of Gilchrist Metal Fabricating in Hudson, New Hampshire, was featured in one of the Romney ads from earlier in the summer.  In the ad, he asks incredulously, “My father’s hands didn’t build this company? My hands didn’t build this company? My son’s hands aren’t building this company? …Through hard work and a little bit of luck, we built this business. Why are you demonizing us for it?”

However, that wasn't the whole story. The New Hampshire Union Leader reported in July that Gilchrist benefited from millions of dollars of government loans and contracts to get his business on its feet:

  • In 1999, Gilchrist Metal received $800,000 in tax-exempt revenue bonds issued by the New Hampshire Business Finance Authority “to set up a second manufacturing plant and purchase equipment to produce high definition television broadcasting equipment,” according to a New Hampshire Union Leader report at the time…
  • Last year, Gilchrist Metal also received two U.S. Navy sub-contracts totaling about $83,000 and a smaller $5,600 Coast Guard contract in 2008, according to a government web site that tracks spending.

Gilchrist wisely took advantage of these funds, which help small businesses like his survive in their early years. He also took a U.S. Small Business Administration loan in the late 1980s totaling “somewhere south of” $500,000, plus matching funds from the federally-funded New England Trade Adjustment Assistance Center.

When called on it, Gilchrist explained: “I’m not going to turn a blind eye because the money came from the government. As far as I’m concerned, I’m getting some of my tax money back. I’m not stupid, I’m not going to say ‘no.’ Shame on me if I didn’t use what’s available.”

But there he was again tonight, somewhat sheepishly, calling for Romney's election, even though Romney would like nothing more than to cut the lifelines to small business that helped Gilchrist's business stay afloat.

Then there was Sher Valenzuela, small businesswoman and running for Lt. Governor of Delaware, who also came out touting her small business acumen.  But her company received roughly $17 million in federal loans and contracts and she's openly encouraged other business owners to rely on taxpayer funding.

There is nothing wrong with this; that's what the SBA is for.  But to tout their achievements as part of a small government, no tax platform ... where do they think the money to lend to their businesses comes from? ... is more than misleading, it's downright mendacious.

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