A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Errors en Espanol

A Spanish-language McCain radio ad gets nearly all its facts wrong.


McCain’s new radio ad, in Spanish, aims to show Florida would benefit from the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which he supports. But every number in the ad is wrong, except one, a prediction of job gains taken from a group favoring the trade deal. And even that number is rounded upward so generously as to flunk third-grade arithmetic.


Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee for president, is a longtime advocate of free trade. He promoted the Colombia Free Trade Agreement and free trade in general during his visits to Colombia and Mexico last week. His campaign announced the release of a Spanish-language radio ad targeting voters in Florida on July 2. Narrated by Tony Villamil, the state’s ex-director of tourism, commerce and economic affairs, the ad uses statistics to argue that the pending trade agreement is crucial to Florida’s economy. 

McCain Radio Ad: "Colombia Trade"

Tony Villamil: This is Tony Villamil speaking, ex-director of Tourism, Commerce and Economic Affairs of Florida.
When it comes to a strong economy for our state, commercial trade with Latin America is crucial. Three-quarters of Florida’s exports are with Latin America, and the Colombian Free Trade Agreement would create even more opportunity.
In this election, there are some that talk about revising the Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada and oppose the Agreement with Colombia. This would hurt our economic future.
Last year Florida’s exports to Latin America reached almost $45 billion dollars. Colombia is Florida’s third most important export market and this trade agreement would create almost 5,000 new jobs.
John McCain supports the Colombian Agreement, knows about our alliances with our hemisphere and understands our economy grows thanks to trade.
Remember who stands for prosperity in Florida, our country and our hemisphere. His name is John McCain.

John McCain:
I’m John McCain and I approve this message.

Announcer: Paid for by John McCain 2008.

The false figures begin with the ad’s claim that "three-quarters of Florida’s exports are with Latin America." That’s wrong. According to the trade statistics generator from the U.S. Department of Commerce, all of Florida’s international exports totaled close to $45 billion dollars in 2007, and the state’s exports to Latin America AND the Caribbean last year equaled nearly $24 billion. That means 53 percent of Florida’s exports go to the region, much closer to half than three-quarters. Exports to Latin America by itself would be even smaller.

This also means the ad’s assertion that "last year, Florida’s exports to Latin America reached almost 45 billion dollars" is false. As we just pointed out, that was the figure for the state’s exports to all countries, not just Latin America.

Finally, the ad trips up when it claims: "Colombia is Florida’s third most important export market." While we don’t know how to measure the "importance" of a market, we can quantify the dollar value of exports sent to each. And by that metric, Colombia ranks fifth – not third – in Florida exports, according to figures from the Commerce Department, as well as from the Census Bureau. But McCain should know this already, because he said it himself on May 20, in an article he wrote for Miami’s Latin Business Chronicle.

McCain, Latin Business Chronicle, May 20, 2008: Colombia today stands as Florida’s fifth largest export market – Florida exported $2.1 billion worth of goods there last year – and now the Colombians are offering to drop their barriers to American goods.

We contacted the McCain campaign repeatedly about the figures used in the ad but received no answer as to where the campaign’s numbers came from and why they differed so much from the Commerce Department’s statistics. We also called Florida’s Department of Finance, but a spokeswoman there could only point us to federal agencies for numbers on trade.

The campaign did give us support for one claim in the ad, a line saying that "this trade agreement would create almost 5,000 new jobs." That prediction, however, comes from a group promoting the agreement, and it doesn’t really support what the ad says. Enterprise Florida, a nonprofit partnership between business leaders and state government that promotes economic development in the state, estimated in 2006 that a trade agreement with Colombia could lead to an "additional 4,483 jobs" in the state. That’s actually closer to 4,000 jobs than to 5,000. Even the 4,483 figure is suspect. For one thing, it is an estimate only of jobs gained from increased exports, without any offset for jobs possibly lost. Furthermore, a more recent report from the International Trade Commission found that the trade agreement was likely to have "minimal to no effect on output or employment for most sectors in the U.S. economy."

We take no stance on the trade agreement itself. But voters should not be misled by the fanciful figures and bad math in this ad.

–by Rachel Weisel, with Justin Bank

Update, July 9: After we posted this article, the McCain campaign belatedly supplied us with figures they said would back up their ad’s claims. They don’t.

While the ad says that "three-quarters of Florida’s exports are with Latin America," the McCain campaign points to figures from Enterprise Florida that count goods and services that simply pass through the state on their way from somewhere in the U.S. (or even other countries) to a location abroad. Similarly, the numbers the campaign used for Florida’s total exports to Latin America and Colombia’s ranking as an export market represent all goods that went through Florida, regardless of where they came from. None of the figures refer only to goods or services that originated in Florida, which is what we think any reasonable person would take the term "Florida’s exports" to mean. As Enterprise Florida analyst Stuart Doyle confirmed, these exports "originate in Florida or they can originate in a different state and are exported through one of [Florida’s] two custom districts, which are Tampa and Miami."

Enterprise Florida also lists the Department of Commerce figures that we cited, calling them “Florida-origin export data.” Doyle told us that they represent "Florida goods going to other countries." That’s the measure of “exports” used by the Department of Commerce.


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