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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Same Old Claims in Another Language

Ads targeting Spanish-speaking voters make claims we've heard before.


The presidential campaigns and third-party groups have been bilingual throughout the election, targeting Spanish-speaking voters with some misleading and false ads. Among the recent TV spots:

  • A McCain-Palin ad tries to paint Obama as a "riesgo" (risk), falsely claiming that his health care plan would require small businesses to cover their employees. But Obama’s plan explicitly exempts small businesses from this requirement, and an adviser has said the threshold "would almost certainly be higher than ten" employees for businesses to be excluded.
  • The ad also says small businesses would be hit with "more taxes," but only those business owners clearing more than $200,000 would see an increase under Obama’s plan.
  • An Obama-Biden/DNC ad offers other misleading statements on taxes, saying McCain would tax workers’ health care benefits but failing to mention he’d give a $2,500 tax credit ($5,000 for families) to cover the cost. It also says McCain’s tax plan gives "nothing" to "100 million households," ignoring his health care tax credit.
  • A National Rifle Association ad features a retired police officer who claims Obama "didn’t think we should be allowed to use a firearm for self-defense." That refers to a vote in the Illinois Legislature to uphold enforcement of local gun bans. It wouldn’t have made it a crime to use guns for self-protection elsewhere.
  • A new group called Latinos 4 Reform has launched a misleading anti-Obama ad that tries to paint him as no friend to Latinos by falsely claiming he doesn’t support trade with countries south of the border, among other charges.


Lest our readers start thinking that misleading political ads only come in one language, we present a look at Spanish-language ads – which, not so surprisingly, put forth the same old false and exaggerated claims we’ve seen in English throughout this long, long, very long campaign. Uttering these words with a melodic Spanish accent doesn’t make them any more true, though it does make the ads more fun to watch – especially when we learn that Obama himself can habla español. (He speaks of the "sueño americano" – "American dream" – in an ad released this week.)

Here’s our look at what the McCain-Palin and Obama-Biden campaigns, as well as third parties, have served up recently to capture the Latino vote.

Small-Business Distortions

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McCain-Palin 2008 Ad: "Riesgo" (Risk)

Announcer: Los expertos predicen que los nuevos impuestos y mandato para un seguro de salud obligatorio de Obama y sus aliados liberales del Congreso eliminarán empleos.

Si tienes un negocio pequeño o trabajas para uno, sabes que más impuestos significa menos empleos, menos dinero en nuestros bolsillos y menos oportunidades. Y quién va a contratar con tantos impuestos! Obama y los liberales del Congreso. Un riesgo para los empleos y los negocios pequeños.

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

Announcer (translated): Experts predict that Obama and Congressional liberals’ new taxes and health care mandate will kill jobs. If you own a small business or work for one, you know that more taxes means less jobs, less money in our pockets, and less opportunities. Who’s going to hire with so many taxes! Obama and Congressional liberals. Too risky for jobs and small business.

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


A McCain-Palin ad released this month, titled "Riesgo" ("Risk"), implies in Spanish that Obama’s plans would punish small businesses with taxes and a "health care mandate." The campaign has been pushing this line of attack ever since "Joe the Plumber" – who stands to get a tax cut under Obama’s plan – asked Obama about raising taxes on those earning more than $250,000, a sum Joe hopes to make one day. (The ad was to air in Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico.)

First, Obama’s health care plan would not mandate that "small businesses" provide coverage for their employees, no matter how many times McCain insists on saying this. Obama’s plan would require "large employers" to either offer coverage or contribute toward employees’ health care, or pay into a national plan. It quite clearly says: "Small businesses will be exempt from this requirement.”

The campaign’s support for this ad actually does a bang-up job of debunking its own claims. The back-up says Obama hasn’t said "how much the fine will be for small businesses under his health care plan," but as proof cites just one Wall Street Journal article, which specifically debunks this McCain camp talking point.

Wall Street Journal (Oct. 16, 2008): The Arizona Republican has repeatedly said that his rival would fine small employers that don’t offer insurance. In fact, the mandate and the fine only would apply to large employers.

It’s true that Obama hasn’t specified what larger businesses would have to pay for failing to provide health care, nor has he said what his plan would consider a "small business." In August, campaign economic adviser Jason Furman told ABC News that the number of employees "would almost certainly be higher than ten," when asked whether the Tax Policy Center analysis of the candidates’ plans was correct in assuming businesses with fewer than 10 employees would be exempt. But Furman said the campaign hasn’t given a specific number. It’s worth noting, as the Journal does, that Obama’s plan also includes a tax credit of up to 50 percent of the premium costs for small businesses (however those are defined) who choose to offer coverage to their employees.

As for taxes, the McCain campaign support for the ad makes clear that Obama would "roll back the Bush tax cuts for those making over $250,000" a year. (That’s the figure for couples; individuals making over $200,000 a year would also revert to paying pre-Bush-tax-cut rates.) But the ad implies that "if you own a small business" you’ll get hit with "more taxes." And if you work for one, your job’s at risk. "Who’s going to hire with so many taxes!" the ad claims. Not every small-business owner, of course, makes $200,000 or $250,000 a year, enough to face "more taxes" under Obama’s plan. In fact, not that many do.

As we said back in June when the McCain camp made a similar claim, "the overwhelming majority of those small-business owners would see no increase, because they earn too little to be affected." The Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center projects that 663,608 taxpayers who report business income (or losses) on their tax returns in 2009 will fall into the top two brackets. The number who are actually "small businesses" would be less than that, since many others report business income on their returns –  such as lawyers with partnership distributions, those with outside consultancy or freelance work, or those with book royalties. (The top two brackets also include some individuals who make less than the amount Obama set as his tax thresholds.)

The ad would have been correct to say that some small-business owners would pay more in taxes under Obama’s plan, but the implication that the Democratic candidate would target all small businesses for an increase is false.

More Taxing Ads

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Obama-Biden/DNC Ad: "Impuestos" (Taxes)

Announcer: Cuando se trata de impuestos, quién está de tu lado? John McCain promete recortarle miles de millones de dólares en impuestos a las grandes corporaciónes. Pero para 100 millones de hogares – nada. Y el plan de salud de McCain hace que los beneficios médicos sean sujetos a impuestos por primera vez en la historia. Con Barack Obama: cero aumento de impuestos para cualquier familia ganando menos de un cuarto de millón de dólares. Barack Obama y los demócratas: para el cambio que necesitamos.

Obama: Soy Barack Obama and apruebo este mensaje.

Announcer (translated): On taxes, who’s on your side? John McCain pledges to give billions of dollars in corporate tax breaks, but for 100 million households – nothing. McCain’s health care plan would tax our medical benefits for the first time in history. With Barack Obama: no tax increases for families making less than $250,000. Barack Obama and the Democrats: the change we need.

Obama: I’m Barack Obama and I approve this message.


The Obama-Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee have aired their own misleading ad on taxes in New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado and Florida. Titled "Impuestos" (that’s "taxes"), it says that McCain would "tax our medical benefits for the first time in history." True, McCain’s plan would do that. But the ad doesn’t say that McCain would give a refundable tax credit of up to $2,500 for individuals ($5,000 for couples or families), which is more than enough to cover the cost of those taxes on employer-provided insurance for most people.

The Tax Policy Center estimated that in 2018 only the top 40 percent of income earners would have to pay more in taxes than they’d get with the credit.

If you haven’t noticed, this is a well-worn campaign theme: Obama and Democrats often mention McCain’s tax on workers’ health benefits without mentioning the tax credit; McCain touts the credit without telling voters about the new taxes.

The Obama ad also claims that McCain’s tax plan offers "nothing" for "100 million households." But that charge also doesn’t take into consideration the refundable tax credit McCain would give to everyone as part of his health care plan. Workers who use the credit to cover increased taxes, and those who use it to buy insurance on their own, could deposit the remainder in a health savings account. That’s certainly something.

Still False in Spanish

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NRA Ad: "Andy Vaquera"

Vaquera: Como americano, nunca he dado por hecho mis libertades. Como oficial de policía jubilado, he visto las tragedias que pasan cuando la gente se la priva su derecha de poseer armas de fuego. Las familias deberán defenderse contra violadores, traficantes de drogas y otras criminales que cruzan nuestras fronteras ilegalmente. Pero, Barack Obama no pensó que debemos dejar usar armas de fuego para defensa propia. Ha votado a favor de permitir el enjuiciamiento de las personas que usan armas de fuego para defender a sus familias y hogares. Y esto no está bien.

El día de las elecciones, acompáñame para proteger nuestra derecha de defensa propia. Defiende tu libertad. Derrota a Obama.

Vaquera (English version): As an American, I’ve never taken my freedoms for granted. As a retired law enforcement officer, I have seen firsthand the tragedy that happens when people are stripped of their gun rights. Families should be able to defend themselves against rapists, drug dealers and other criminals illegally crossing our borders. But Barack Obama didn’t think we should be allowed to use a firearm for self-defense. He even voted to allow the prosecution of people who use firearms to defend their families in their own homes. That’s just wrong.

On election day, join me in protecting our right of self-defense. Defend freedom, defeat Obama.

Announcer: The NRA Victory fund is responsible for the content of this commercial.


A National Rifle Association ad features Andy Vaquera, a retired police officer, in both Spanish and English versions. Vaquera says "families should be able to defend themselves against rapists, drug dealers, and other criminals illegally crossing our borders." We think it’s safe to assume Vaquera believes families should be able to defend themselves against all criminals, not just ones that are illegal immigrants. But anyway, the thrust of his argument is that "Barack Obama didn’t think we should be allowed to use a firearm for self-defense." Vaquera adds that Obama "voted to allow the prosecution of people who use firearms to defend their families in their own homes." That’s a distortion.

The NRA made this assertion more forcefully in an English-language ad that claimed to re-create a "true story." We debunked that TV spot last week. The charge is based on a vote Obama cast as an Illinois state senator. Obama’s vote, as we said, would not have denied anyone the right of self-defense. Nor would it have implemented criminal penalties for those who use a gun to do so.

In fact, Obama voted to preserve the status-quo, not changing any laws whatsoever. The bill in question was introduced after a man in a Chicago suburb shot an intruder and was fined $750 for violating a local gun ban, a "petty offense." The bill, which became law despite a gubernatorial veto, forbade localities with gun bans from penalizing owners of illegal weapons in cases where guns were used in self-defense in the home or a person’s business. Obama voted against it.

As we said, "it would be fair to characterize Obama as voting to uphold enforcement of local gun bans, even in cases where the banned weapons were used in self-defense." But the NRA and Vaquera go too far in saying Obama "didn’t think we should be allowed" to use a gun "for self-defense." We can’t say what Obama thinks, nor can the NRA, but his vote doesn’t support that assertion.

Obama’s vote could only have applied where local gun bans existed, not everywhere as the NRA’s ads imply. Furthermore, local gun bans are now pretty much a thing of the past. In June, the Supreme Court threw out the District of Columbia’s local ban, saying it violated the Second Amendment. Obama issued a statement calling the decision "much-needed guidance to local jurisdictions across the country."

No Amigo to Latinos?

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Latinos 4 Reform Ad: "Friend of Latinos"

Announcer: Barack Obama amigo de los Latinos? El record demuestra lo contrario. Sabías que después de que el censo demonstró el grán crecimiento de la comunidad latina, Obama le dijo a la prensa en Chicago que aunque todos reconocen el crecimiento de los latinos, no se puede permitir que los Latinos le quiten poder de la comunidad afrícana-americana? Oiste bien…Pero hay más…
Sabías que a lo largo de su carrera en la legislatura, Obama nunca ha contratado a un Latino a posiciones importantes en sus oficinas? Sabías que Obama se opone al libre comercio con México, Centroamérica y Colombia, pero apoya el libre comercio con Africa? Y durante el debate de inmigración en el Senado, Obama nos ignoró por completo para no ofender a las unions y a los votantes de Iowa. Después de ignorar a los Latinos durante toda su vida, ahora nos lo ofrece todo. Por favor señor Obama, los Latinos estamos cansados de las promesas vacias de los políticos como usted que nos ofrecen todo cuando necesitan nuestros votos, pero después se olvidan de nosotros. Latinos piénsenlo bien, porque el futuro está en sus manos. Pagado por Latinos por la Reforma.

Announcer (translated): Barack Obama is a friend to Latinos? The record demonstrates the opposite. Did you know that after the 2000 census that showed a tremendous growth in the Latino community of Chicago, Obama told reporters in Chicago that while everyone agrees that the Hispanic population has grown, they cannot expand by taking power from the African-American community? You heard right. But there’s more. Did you know that Obama has never hired a Latino to a senior position in his office throughout his legislative career? Did you know that Obama has opposed trade with Mexico, Central America and Colombia, yet supports free trade with Africa? And during the immigration debate in the Senate, Obama ignored us in order to avoid upsetting labor unions and the voters in Iowa. And now after ignoring Latinos throughout his career, he promises us everything. Please Mr. Obama, Latinos are tired of the empty promises from politicians, like yourself, that offer us everything when you need our votes, but then forget about us. Latinos, think it over, because the future is in your hands. Paid for by Latinos for Reform.


Actually, not everything out there consists of warmed-over campaign claims presented en español. A conservative group calling itself Latinos 4 Reform has raised a mere $30,000, according to its chairman, Robert Deposada, to run a minute-long anti-Obama TV spot in Pennsylvania, Colorado and New Mexico. Deposada, the former head of the Latino Coalition, estimates that the group can air the ad three or four times in each market for that money.

The ad describes Obama as someone who has worked against Latinos and is now trying to curry their favor – but it’s highly misleading. The ad claims that "after the 2000 Census that showed a tremendous growth in the Latino community of Chicago, Obama told reporters in Chicago that while everyone agrees that the Hispanic population has grown, they cannot expand by taking power from the African-American community." That’s not quite what a 2001 article in the Chicago Defender said.

The newspaper article concerned a redrawing of the city and congressional legislative map and quoted African American and Latino representatives saying that they needed to be part of the process. While it is true that Obama said that no African-American seats should be sacrificed during redistricting, that was not seen as a position unfriendly to the burgeoning Hispanic community. In fact, a Latino alderman agreed with Obama:

Chicago Defender (April 19, 2001): Reached in Springfield, Senator Barack Obama (D-13th) said they met for the first time with the city on the remap issue and made it clear that "while everyone agrees that the Hispanic population has grown, they cannot expand by taking African American seats."

Agreeing was Ald. Billy Ocasio (26th) who told the Chicago Defender: "The Hispanic population has increased but not necessarily in African American districts.

"It has increased in the Caucasian communities and now that we have increased numbers, our representation should increase in those areas where we are living and that is not in African American areas," said Ocasio.

The ad goes on to misleadingly claim that Obama "has opposed free trade with Mexico, Central America and Colombia, yet supports free trade with Africa." What Obama has said is that he’d like to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement to include more protections for workers and the environment, not that we shouldn’t have such an agreement with Mexico or other countries south of the border. In fact, the ad neglects to say that he supported the free trade agreement with Peru, applauding the agreement’s labor provisions. As the Council on Foreign Relations puts it: Obama "generally supports free trade policies, though he has expressed concern about free trade agreements that do not include labor and environmental protections."

The ad also speculates that Obama "ignored" Latinos during the immigration debate. We’d note that Obama supported the immigration bill, and we found a previous attempt to criticize him for blocking the legislation to be a stretch. It was a Republican-led filibuster that killed the bill in the Senate.

– by Lori Robertson


Strausberg, Chinta. “City, state pols say remap cannot take from Blacks.” Chicago Defender, 19 April 2001.

Obama, Barack. "Plan for a Healthy America." BarackObama.com, accessed 29 Oct. 2008.

Meckler, Laura. “McCain Presses Obama on Health-Plan Penalties.” Wall Street Journal, 16 Oct. 2008.

Obama Fuzzy on ‘Small Business’ Exemption.” ABCNews.com Political Radar blog, 5 Aug. 2008.

Table T08-0164 "Distribution of Tax Units with Business Income by Statutory Marginal Tax Rate, Assuming Extension and Indexation of the 2007 AMT Patch, 2009" Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, 20 May 2008.

Burman, Leonard E., et.al. “An Updated Analysis of the 2008 Presidential Candidates’ Tax Plans: Updated September 12, 2008.” Tax Policy Center, 12 Sept. 2008.

Candidate Positions: Barack Obama. “Council on Foreign Relations,” accessed 29 Oct. 2008.