Reality Check

Reality Check: Feingold Ad Targets Johnson, NAFTA

Ad Says Trade Deals Responsible For Job Losses

MADISON, Wis. - WISC-TV's We the People Wisconsin Fact Finder reports continue with a question about a recent ad from Democratic U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold about a statement by Ron Johnson, his Republican challenger.

A viewer from Poynette asked: "What's the truth about NAFTA's effect on jobs in Wisconsin?"

The ad, which features pictures of locked-up factories and the phrase "creative destruction," highlights what is likely the most important issue to voters this season: jobs.

In the ad, Feingold blames 1990s-era trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA for job losses. NAFTA was passed in 1994 and Feingold did not vote for it. The bill eliminated tariffs on trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico.

What was the effect? Feingold and Johnson disagree.

"In a free market capitalist system, there's always winners and losers; it's creative destruction," the ad quotes Johnson saying at a Wispolitics luncheon.

"This is what my opponent calls creative destruction," Feingold says in the ad, showing pictures of closed factories. "In 2003 the Evenflo company closed its doors and moved all its jobs to Mexico."

A WISC-TV analysis found this needs clarification. The idea behind NAFTA is that it spurs competition. Johnson's statement implied that those businesses that can't compete should and will close.

"It's creative destruction. That just happens. It's unfortunate, but let's face it, if it weren't for that, we'd still have buggy whip companies," Johnson said at the luncheon.

Evenflo wasn't destroyed, but it did move operations, WISC-TV reported. The company said it moved jobs to Mexico in January 2003, because the "closings were necessary to continue to offer high-quality products at competitive prices."

Mirro Corporation is also shown in the ad. It closed a Manitowoc cookware plant in 2003, also moving jobs to Mexico.

"Unfair trade agreements like NAFTA are directly responsible for these lost jobs, but Ron Johnson favors those deals" says Feingold in the ad.

"NAFTA and CAFTA have actually been successful for our economy," the ad quotes Johnson as saying in a Wisconsin Public Radio interview.

A WISC-TV analysis found this is needs clarification. Is it "directly responsible"? That's debatable.

In 2003, the Congressional Budget Office said it's hard to blame US jobs losses on NAFTA directly because other factors affect trade, like political unrest or the value of currencies in other countries.

Has NAFTA been successful, as Johnson states? The CBO gave it only small credit for overall economic growth.

As for the 64,000 job loss Feingold claims, that number comes from the number of workers claiming help the government offers to workers whose jobs move overseas. From 1994 to 2008 64,000 were eligible for that help in Wisconsin. But there's also no estimate of how many jobs were created because of increased exporting, WISC-TV reported.

If you have a claim or a question you'd like the Fact Finder team to check out, please send it to

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