Sher Valenzuela, who is scheduled to speak at the Republican National Convention next week, embodies the American Dream. The 58-year-old, who is running for lieutenant governor in Delaware, started an upholstery business with her husband in their garage more than a decade ago to pay for their son's autism treatments. The business, which makes padding for baseball umpires and vests for the Israeli military, now employs at least 40 workers and pulls in millions in revenue each year.
But there's one problem for Republicans, who hope to align Valenzuela's story with the convention's "We Built It" theme: She didn't actually build her company without the government's help.
Valenzuela's company received roughly $17 million in federal loans and contracts and she's openly encouraged other business owners to rely on taxpayer funding, Media Matters reported Thursday.
"But where do I start?" Valenzuela wrote in a presentation to a group of women entrepreneurs at a Delaware business conference earlier this year. "With your BIGGEST secret weapon!" the presentation read. "You start with the no cost/low-cost resources that you, the taxpayer, have already paid for."
Valenzuela's advice -- to rely on government funds when growing a business -- stands in stark contrast to Republicans' "We Built It" slogan, which seeks to capitalize on a controversial remark made by President Barack Obama on July 13.
The Romney campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Valenzuela's office also was not immediately available for comment.
Republican outrage over Obama's comment has galvanized conservative voters, despite repeated assertions and evidence from Obama that Republicans have distorted the meaning of his words.
First State Manufacturing, Valenzuela's company, has received more than $2 million in federal loans, according to a Small Business Administration document. Among the loans is $20,000 in SBA-backed credit that Valenzuela and her husband received to get their business started. In addition, Valenzuela borrowed $1.8 million in government-backed funding to build her firm's 66,000 square-foot facility, where at least 40 technicians work today.
On top of that, First State has benefited from $15 million in federal contracts since 2001, receiving at least $1.5 million each year between 2006 and 2011, according to government data.
This is not the first time that an entrepreneur tapped by the Romney campaign to espouse its "We Built It" message turned out to have relied on the government for help with their business.
Dennis Sollmann, the owner of Sollmann Electric Company, who appeared in a Romney web ad criticizing the president for his "you didn't build that" line, did millions of dollars worth of work for the government. In addition, Jack Gilchrist, the owner of Gilchrist Metal Fabricating, who starred in another Romney ad, received $800,000 in tax-exempt revenue bonds, as well as sub-contracts in 2008 from the U.S. Navy.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly labeled the name of the Republican's theme day. The theme is called "We Built It."