Presidential Candidates Claim Ignorance About Foreign-Made Merchandise

Campaign t-shirts for Gingrich, Santorum, Paul and Cain were all made abroad.

ByABC News
August 2, 2011, 10:22 AM

Aug. 2, 2011 -- Republican presidential candidates are pitching plans to revive the economy, selling a message of jobs and growth. But when it comes to what they are buying, ABC News found that four of the candidates are selling merchandise made overseas.

ABC News investigated all eight Republican candidates as well as the president's re-election campaign and discovered that campaign T-shirts for Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Herman Cain were all made outside the United States.

The T-shirts for Republican candidates Mitt Romney, Michele Bachman, Jon Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty, as well as President Obama, were all made in the U.S. ABC News chose T-shirts because that merchandise is common to all the campaigns.

Gingrich's online store sells American-made T-shirts, but at a campaign stop an ABC News producer was given a T-shirt made in El Salvador. When Gingrich was shown the shirt and asked for an explanation, he deflected responsibility.

"I didn't order it. I didn't do it," he said. "I have to ask the folks that ordered this."

Later, a spokesman for Gingrich's campaign told ABC News that the shirts were a rush order mistake and that it's the campaign's preference to buy American.

ABC News also caught up with Cain who, like Gingrich, claimed ignorance.

"No, I wasn't aware it was made in Honduras," Cain said. "I was just aware it was Fruit of the Loom ... which is an American company."

Santorum and Paul used the opportunity to make political statements.

"It's tragic that so many products in this country are made outside of this country," said Santorum. "You probably can find a T-shirt occasionally made here in the United States ... but it's harder and harder to do."

Paul was unapologetic that his campaign's T-shirts were made in El Salvador.

"I wasn't aware of it ... but I wouldn't change it," said Paul. "I would argue the case that the market should determine it."

Although Paul was not concerned about where his shirts are manufactured, it is an issue that is important to many voters.

"They're all preaching jobs, jobs, jobs. And if they're not gonna start right at their own campaigns, then how are they gonna have that go forward if they're elected?" said Colleen Willmott at a Tim Pawlenty campaign event in Iowa.

Kathleen Clarke, who was also at the Pawlenty event, agrees.

"We need this economy growing, not somebody else's," she said. "We need to work on this country and what gets manufactured here."

In the 1970s there were more than 2.4 million textile workers in the U.S. Today, there are fewer than 400,000; two million jobs have been shipped overseas.

Bayside is a textile company bucking the trend. Based in Anaheim, Calif., the manufacturer employs 500 workers in 12 states and is already making T-shirts for about half the candidates. The cotton, the dye, the stitching -- every part of the T-shirt is made in America.

"If this senator doesn't know how to find shirts, pick up the phone and call me. I'll sell you the shirts," said Abdul Rashid, COO of Bayside, referring to Santorum's comment.

"We are creating jobs, and that's what America is about—creating jobs," said Rashid. "There are less companies in the United States making goods made in America, but all you have to do is go online and search. … If you do your searching, you will find us."

The company says that if all the candidates bought Bayside, it could hire another 500 workers.

Click Here to Purchase Your "Made in America" T-Shirt

ABC News' Daniel Steinberger, Matt Jaffe, Janice McDonald and Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.