On Tuesday, the Republican Governors Association — the gubernatorial campaign arm of the national GOP — fired a shot at Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate for governor of Florida. The RGA, which is backing Republican Bill McCollum, took aim at Sink's career as a top executive at Bank of America and its predecessor in Florida, NationsBank.
Here's the entire text of the 15-second advertisement:
"As bank president, Alex Sink eliminated thousands of Florida jobs while taking over $8 million in salary and bonuses. Alex Sink. Not one of us. One of them."
We see three areas to check:
We were unable to track down any official NationsBank documents addressing the issue of job losses from the Charlotte, N.C., bank's August 1997 acquisition of Jacksonville-based Barnett Bank. But news coverage at the time is consistent in reporting that the company planned to eliminate 6,000 jobs as a result of the merger.
That figure involves a bit of uncertainty. It's a prediction, not an after-the-fact accounting. In addition, Rusty Rainey, who led the NationsBank-Barnett transition, said in a Miami Herald article that the 6,000 target would be met largely by attrition.
Also, the subsequent merger of NationsBank with Bank of America in 1998 created an expected 8,000 job cuts. But that was a national number; the number for Florida was not reported.
Regardless, the ad speaks of "thousands of Florida jobs," rather than a specific number. So we find this description accurate.
We were unable to obtain original tax forms from the Sink campaign, but their contents were widely reported in 2002, when the gubernatorial campaign of Sink's husband, Bill McBride, released them.
According to news reports, Sink earned $2.6 million in 1999, $3.4 million in 2000 and $2.8 million in 2001. That equals $8.8 million over three years. While that amount squares with the ad, it's worth noting two caveats.
One is that this income was earned between two and four years after the merger was announced. But Sink held the same position — president of Florida operations — and presided over the merged entity. So that isn't a major flaw.
The other caveat concerns the ad's use of the term "salary and bonuses." Reports at the time mention "stock-options and lump-sum pension payments" and "deferred compensation," but not bonuses.
The RGA stands behind its characterization, but we think the distinction is worth mentioning. In today's financial environment, saying that an employee received a lucrative "bonus" at the same time the company was cutting jobs is a loaded accusation. We'll downgrade the accuracy of this part of the ad slightly.
Who's to blame?
Banking experts we spoke to noted that Sink did nothing unusual during that period of mergers.
James McNulty, a finance professor at Florida Atlantic University, said: "The major reason that banks merge is to improve efficiency, and that involves eliminating positions that are redundant in the combined organization. … Blaming it on Alex Sink is preposterous."
There's one other issue worth considering: Was Sink as personally responsible for slashing jobs as the ad claims?
In May, Sink told the St. Petersburg Times-Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau that the decision to merge with Barnett was made by corporate executives at NationsBank in Charlotte, N.C.
RGA spokesman Tim Murtaugh responds that "If she says she wasn't responsible and was only following orders, what does that say about her ability to tout her business experience? She can't claim that she wasn't in charge of decisionmaking and then also claim that she has business decisionmaking experience."
On that point, we agree. Even if she were not the architect of the deal, she helped implement the merger over the next few years, and received a generous compensation package. With the exception of the term "bonus," which is a bit of a stretch, the RGA ad strikes us as generally accurate. We rate it Mostly True.