A VanderSloot-funded 1999 billboard protesting Idaho public television’s airing of “It’s Elementary,” a documentary that deals with gay and lesbian issues.
One of Mitt Romney’s biggest supporters this election cycle and last has been Frank VanderSloot, a powerful Mormon businessman in Idaho. VanderSloot is national finance co-chairman of Romney’s campaign, as he was in 2008, and he has hosted a number of fundraisers for Romney over the years. Subsidiaries of VanderSloot’s multi-level marketing company Melaleuca, of which he is CEO, have poured a combined $1 million into Restore Our Future, the main super PAC associated with Romney.
VanderSloot is a major player in Idaho politics, but as his profile rises with the Romney campaign, his controversial background in Idaho is making him a target. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald wrote about him in February, Democrats have begun to circulate snippets of his history online, and a gay rights group is sending around a petition urging the Romney campaign to cut ties with him.
Melaleuca Inc., which produces green cleaning products, cosmetics, and vitamins, was accused in one lawsuit by distributors of being a pyramid scheme, which it strenuously denies. Vandersloot’s lawyers have threatened multiple lawsuits against bloggers and journalists who criticize him, and he, his wife, and his company have engaged in the kinds of bitter disputes over gay rights that Romney has sought to avoid, including billboards in Idaho paid for by VanderSloot and Melaleuca that attacked state public television for airing a gay-related documentary.
VanderSloot is based in Idaho Falls and is the patriarch of a large family there. He’s supported Republicans in races all over Idaho and has been fundraising for Romney since 2007 and most recently on February 17, when he attended a fundraising lunch in Boise for Romney hosted by Idaho Governor Butch Otter.
Of his company Melaleuca’s four donations to Restore Our Future, VanderSloot told the Washington Post in February that “We don’t like to rile people up, but if you’re afraid to take a stand then you probably don’t deserve the benefits of good government.”
And Romney, for his part, has praised VanderSloot, writing on Melaleuca’s blog that “Under the leadership of Frank VanderSloot, Melaleuca has delivered on its promise of enhancing the lives of people. Frank’s vision and sense of social responsibility is second to none and he never ceases to amaze me.”
Melaleuca was described in a Forbes article from 2004 as a “pyramid selling organization, built along the lines of Herbalife and Amway”; it’s a “multilevel marketing” organization in which distributors sell its products, all the while recruiting other distributors. It calls the vendors who sell its products on commission “marketing executives,” but the average wage for a Melaleuca marketing executive is $85 a year, Mother Jones reported. The company pitches itself to stay-at-home moms as a source of extra income, but the vast majority of the money goes to VanderSloot himself, who Forbes estimated in 2004 was worth $700 million.
Critics of Melaleuca’s marketing strategy have sometimes faced aggressive blowback from the company, and in some cases been threatened with a lawsuit. Idaho blogger Jody May-Chang received a threatening letter in February from Melaleuca’s counsel, over a four-year-old post on her blog that referred to Melaleuca as a pyramid scheme.
Melaleuca’s lawyer Michael LaClare wrote to her accusing her of “inflammatory rhetoric” and demanding that the offending post be taken down. A similar letter had been sent to May-Chang back in 2008, though she says she never saw it because it went to a P.O. box she had closed out.
VanderSloot’s company “goes after anybody who speaks critically of them,” May-Chang said. That includes a number of other outlets, including Mother Jones, which took down an article at the behest of Melaleuca’s lawyers. Washington bureau chief David Corn said they took it down in order to re-report the story, and re-posted with corrections a week later. (Corn noted that “We’ve done this in the past with other stories where there have been issues.”)
Other targets also includes writers like James Tidmarsh, who runs a gay blog called The Idaho Agenda and who took down a post on VanderSloot’s opposition to gay rights after he, too, received a cease-and-desist letter and a series of emails from Melaleuca’s lawyer. Melaleuca’s letter to Tidmarsh, dated February 7th, says that Melaleuca “recognizes the potentially valuable service that The Idaho Agenda website (“Website”) provides to Idaho’s LGBT community” but that “it is wrong, however, for you to use false, misleading, and/or defamatory statements to support your opinions or objectives.”
“The letter caught me totally by surprise,” Tidmarsh told BuzzFeed. “Everything I wrote has been out there for years. It’s widely known in Idaho. It’s not like it was big secrets I’d uncovered.”
Still, Tidmarsh chose to take the post down.
“I started the blog as an events type of a blog to support the LGBT community here in Idaho,” he said. “It’s not going to be supporting anybody if it’s tied up in litigation.”
The Tidmarsh post that raised Melaleuca’s ire pinpointed three incidents: when VanderSloot paid for a full-page newspaper ad that outed a reporter, Peter Zuckerman, who had exposed sexual abuse among Boy Scout troops in a Mormon area in Idaho; when VanderSloot paid for billboards that criticized Idaho state television for running “It’s Elementary,” a documentary about discussing gay issues with schoolchildren; and third, the article mentioned the fact that VanderSloot’s wife Belinda donated $100,000 to support Proposition 8 in California.
VanderSloot’s history has begun to mobilize segments of the left to use him as ammunition against the Romney campaign, like Human Rights Campaign, the gay advocacy group. HRC has started a petition called “Fire Frank,” calling on Romney to “Fire Frank VanderSloot immediately and return the money he has donated to your campaign.” The group says that nearly 40,000 people have signed the petition so far.
HRC spokesman Dan Rafter told BuzzFeed that “Mitt Romney can’t have it both ways - saying repeatedly he opposes discrimination against gay Americans but then employing Frank VanderSloot, whose harsh anti-gay views are quite clear. The Republican hopeful should immediately fire VanderSloot to show the country he means what he says.”
A spokeswoman for the Romney campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
It’s possible that the media attention coming their way because of VanderSloot has quieted him somewhat; Jody May-Chang says his company’s lawyer’s haven’t followed up on their letter.
“My feelings on that is it’s about the political campaign and exposure he’s getting,” she said. “I’m small potatoes right now.”
Regardless, she says, “He has a lot of influence. A lot of people are not willing to speak up and talk against him.”
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I too have been a happy Melaleuca customer for over 17 years. I have even chosen to refer friends and family to the poducts and have, as a result been compensated by the company. I do not however work as an employee and I feel that allows me to be most objective. The products are exceptional and the company’s mission of enhavncing lives is pure. My experience with Frank is that he is excepting of all people no matter their race, religion, sexual orientation or gender. I chaulk this up to shoddy journalism from a site that clearly has an agenda and has not taken the time to objectively investigate all the facts of the “stories” they have reported on. Shame on you.
Frank VanderSloot may be a tough, no-nonsense businessman, but he is not a bigot. I have known this man for twenty years and have never seen him speak disparagingly of any person based on their sexual orientation. You have chosen to broadcast “yellow journalism” stories without doing your research on this man and what he really believes.
- markc37 thinks Get To Know Mitt Romney's Most Co... is Fail
- Jody May-Chang thinks Get To Know Mitt Romney's Most Co... is Trashy & WTF
I have been a Melaleuca customer for nearly 4 years and have had an opportunity to meet Mr. Vandersloot and there are many gross inaccuracies in this article. Mr. Vandersloot is a good and moral person and he has always exhibited the most ethical and loving character in all of my interactions.
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“Vandersloot’s lawyers have threatened multiple lawsuits against bloggers and journalists who criticize him” It’s only fair to point out that VanderSloot says it’s not that these writers have criticized him, but it’s that they’ve written inaccurate, misleading or untrue things about him. I think it’s important to highlight that side of the story too. If there’s been libel, he has every right in the world to correct it.
- whataday thinks Get To Know Mitt Romney's Most Co... is Fail
Is there an echo in here? Like most recent articles about VanderSloot, this article repeats what others have written without fact checking both sides of the story. Don’t you think that when activist websites like Tidmarsh’s site or Mother Jones take down material it is for a reason? Like they what they posted should be taken down because portions of it aren’t accurate? Most of these articles look like sour grapes from the left because of Vandersloot’s staunch support of the Romney campaign or other causes he supports, like the Boy Scouts. At the end of the day many writers, like the author of this article, may dislike Frank’s politics, but he is a good man that engages in political discussions when he thinks it is important. Isn’t that what Americans are supposed to do?
- buzzerbeater thinks Get To Know Mitt Romney's Most Co... is Trashy
Please do your research and not just re-sharing inaccurate and ssensational information. This is getting old. Melaleuca has actually paid out to it’s Marketing Executives more than 2.8 billion dollars in commissions. It’s the first Consumer Direct Marketing company and it competes agains Johnson and Johnson and Procter and Gamble. I know from first-hand experience of the lives that have benefitted from Frank’s leadership of this company. He has helped tens of thousands of families earn true residual income in this tough economy. He has friends who are gay, loves them, and is a man of high integrity. You need to do a fresh look for yourself at this billion dollar company, and this well-respected business man. That should be your story but it’s not flashy enough for you. You should spend your time and web space on touting the good he has done, and the exceptional products that are good for your home, health and the environment and not just throw out garbage that seems overly sensational. As a former news reporter in Eastern Idaho I know Frank well, and I also know the desire for the grabbing and catchy headlines to increase readership. I never had to do that. Do your homework and be a real reporter.
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