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Corporate lobby group attempts to debunk our study

For the second election cycle in a row, we've released a nearly 100 page study analyzing the role of trade in the congressional races, and for the second cycle in a row, a corporate lobby group has attempted to debunk the main findings. The group, the National Foreign Trade Council, is one of the prime groups fighting fair trade policies in the U.S., including state level efforts to divest from brutal regimes in Sudan and elsewhere.

Jay Heflin at Congress Now picked up this story last week, and here's how he reported on what we told him:

When contacted about the NFTC's study, Public Citizen deputy director Bill Holland said the group made a similar claim after the 2006 election that turned out to be incorrect.

'In 2006, they released a statement that said only 10 candidates appeared to make trade an issue in their election,' Holland said. 'Weeks later, 39 freshman sent a letter to the House Ways and Means chairman specifically saying that trade was a decisive issue in their campaigns and that they desire change in U.S. trade policy.'

That letter, dated Jan. 17, 2007, was sent to Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.). It stated, 'It is very important that we not only reverse the troubling results of the administration's trade agreements and trade policies, but also that we are able to deliver on the promise we made to our constituents to move our nation in a new and improved direction on trade.'

So, you would think that NFTC (and its affiliated group, USA Engage) might have given up on U.S. election analysis, which is clearly not their forte. Or that of their bizarre choice of researcher for their 2006 "debunk," the British Simon Evenett at the Swiss Institute for International Economics and Applied Economic Research. Interestingly, the British and Swiss are not known for their detailed birddogging work in U.S. politics.

Instead, their 2008 report is even stranger than their 2006 attempt. Not to toot our own horn, but in 2006, we spent months analyzing looked at websites, television ads, public statements, press quotes, candidate pledges, vote records (even at the state level) and beyond to sketch trade positions of over 200 incumbents, challengers, and outgoing representatives. After looking at these sources once, we did it again, and again, and again, and fleshed out a very full picture of the candidates. NFTC and Evenett appeared to spend a few days contracting an intern to do a modest search of campaign websites only - which across the country are varied in terms of their level of detail and sophistication.

But the group was apparently not embarrassed by this overwhelming gap in their research, and have pushed out a comparably shabby product this time around - even as we greatly expanded our methodology to cover a greater number of races and candidates (over 260). Among the problems with their 7 page report and press release:

  • They didn't seem to actually read out report: we had already done lots of this research for them. They call the fair-trade issue a regional phenomena, even though - as our report points out - the issue played in the Pacific Northwest, the Rocky Mountain states, New England, the South, the Southwest - in other words, far beyond the Rust Belt.
  • Even though the study only focused on websites, it missed many candidates' web positions on fair trade, and thus didn't count them as fair traders. Among the glaring omissions: Sen.-elect Tom Udall (D-N.M.); and Reps.-elect Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.), and Betsy Markey (D-Colo.), who all bashed unfair trade deals on their websites, not to mention in press interviews and debates and in voting records (in Udall's case). And Reps-elect Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fla.), and Jim Himes (D-Conn.) all bashed offshoring on their actual campaign websites. And if NFTC had dug into other media, they would have found a range of fair-trade comments by these candidates.
  • Some people they count as anti-fair trade pickups are way off base. Like Rep.-elect Jared Polis (D-Colo.), whose campaign organized imported toy safety and education sessions, and opposed tax breaks for companies that offshore jobs. Or Rep.-elect John Adler (D-N.J.), who led an effort to have New Jersey divest from the Sudan - an initiative that NFTC has spent loads of resources fighting. Or Duncan Hunter Jr. (R-Calif.), who put out on his campaign website strong fair-trade positions like the ones his dad held before him.
  • In their entry on Virginia's Gerry Connolly, they actually paste in a statement from Mike Lumpkin - a Democrat challenging California's Duncan Hunter, Jr. In fact, the entry on Gerry in the NFTC report actually says "Mike will advocate for fair" trade policies.

There were a number of very strange errors, including not counting the following as fair trade pick ups.

  • Gary Peters, a fierce opponent of the Peru FTA and other NAFTA style deals, wrote about this position on his website. He also ran a slew of paid trade ads against incumbent Joe Knollenberg, a 19/19 fair trade opponent.
  • Larry Kissell campaigned against Robin Hayes' two time flip flop on key tight votes - Fast Track and CAFTA. This was mentioned on his website ( before they took it down), and in ads, and in countless press reports. Yet NFTC doesn't count Kissell as a fair trade pick up.
  • Similarly, they don't count Sen.-elect Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) as a fair trade pickup, even though she ran the second highest number of paid fair-trade ads of the entire campaign, and relentlessly highlighted Liddy Dole's support of CAFTA.
  • Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.) said "free trade doesn't work" and said "we need to throw out NAFTA." He replaces  anti-fair trader Jim Walsh.
  • Rep.-elect Steve Austria (R-Ohio) was one of our report's GOP fair-trade pickups, even though he opposed NAFTA and ran paid fair-trade ads. He replaces 100% anti-fair trader David Hobson (R-Ohio).

In short, the NFTC missed the story big time. This was a year when the Democrats' presidential and congressional candidates and congressional campaign committees (and even a growing number of Republicans) spent unprecedented amounts of resources communicating fair-trade positions

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