Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot is in the national spotlight amid accusations that he threatens journalists to make negative reports about him go away.
The scrutiny comes alongside VanderSloot's role with the Mitt Romney campaign. He's co-chair of the GOP candidate's national finance committee and donated $1 million to the Romney Super-PAC.
In an extensive article published last Friday, Salon.com charged the apparent billionaire with using legal tactics for years, to silence those who have criticized his business practices or characterized him as "anti-gay."
VanderSloot denied a number of allegations and called it an attack by the liberal media in a nearly four-page statement on Tuesday.
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow spent five minutes of airtime on Monday night talking about VanderSloot, and re-capping Friday's controversial article.
"Mr. VanderSloot has involved himself in a number of political causes over the years, in what would seem to be a very high profile kind of way, but has taken a very aggressive stance toward anyone reporting on his public involvements," said Maddow.
Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald said VanderSloot threatens "patently frivolous lawsuits," and in the last month alone, has forced journalists to take down critical articles.
VanderSloot said Greenwald "quotes what others have wrongfully said about us and then taunts us to do something about the fact that he repeats it."
"Mr. VanderSloot is a public political figure," said independent journalist and blogger Jody May-Chang. "They're fair game ... especially when you're talking about behaviors and actions and things done in public light that are well known."
Some of VanderSloot's public actions under scrutiny, include: Running an alleged "pyramid" company, his wife's reported $100,000 donation to the Prop 8 campaign to ban gay marriage in California, and his alleged "outing" of a gay Idaho Falls reporter, which he denied.
"I have never spoken out against gays or against gay rights," said VanderSloot.
But some said money speaks louder than words.
VanderSloot admitted he may have offended some by contributing to a group that objected to spending tax dollars on a pro-gay marriage documentary on public television in 1999.
"I'm not sure how anyone else could not characterize those as anti-gay," said May-Chang.
The Boise-based May-Chang got a letter from VanderSloot's lawyers for some 2007-2008 posts, but she's not backing down.
"I'm prepared to defend my right to free speech without being intimidated by a bully with deep pockets," said May-Chang.
VanderSloot said Melaleuca "will continue to use whatever legal means are available to us to defend the truth and to request corrections where false allegations have been made."
Below is the full statement Frank VanderSloot issued on Tuesday:
ON BEING A "BILLIONAIRE"—I fear my financial status has been greatly exaggerated. I do own a majority interest in Melaleuca, a company we started 26 years ago. The company has done well. Some analysts have suggested that I could sell my share of the company for a lot of money. It’s hard to know how much. The problem is I would have to sell the company before I would ever see the cash. I'm not selling, so I will never be cash-rich. But that was never the intent.
That said, I'm paid a good salary and receive bonuses and residuals that are beyond what I deserve. In my youth, my family was poor, but we learned we didn't need money to be happy. My father taught us to love manual labor. I grew up milking cows by hand and chopping wood for my mother’s cook stove. I never anticipated being wealthy. I never imagined it. I never desired it and I never even considered it as a possibility. But our little business has prospered and I have really enjoyed my business experience. The hardworking folks who have joined us have prospered with us. I am a strong advocate of the free enterprise system. Only in America could someone start out where I started and receive the kinds of opportunities I've had.
ON THE BOY SCOUTS ISSUE—In 2005, the Idaho Falls Post Register ran a story about several pedophiles who had operated in local Boy Scout troops over the years. These were serious offenses and the topic deserved to be covered. I had no empathy for the pedophiles. They deserved to be exposed and punished. However, I felt that the coverage of the story was unfair in several respects. I felt the paper also wrongfully tried to vilify one of the pedophile’s parents, volunteers at his church, and Scout leaders. The pedophile’s family and friends were clearly also victims. But somehow they were being blamed for his actions. These people had no way to defend themselves from the innuendos being lodged against them. I tried to put myself in their shoes. I had never met these people, but I felt someone should stand up for them.
I spent considerable time and effort trying to find out what the truth was before I took sides. I learned that there were several facts and a great deal of court testimony the paper was ignoring and Melaleuca purchased space in the paper to point out those things. Clearly, mistakes in judgment had been made. The pedophile had bamboozled everyone and he had been given far too much unsupervised access to young people in the community. But implying that all of the people around him intentionally assisted the pedophile went too far. In trying to inform the community of the additional facts that we had uncovered, I erred in not being sensitive to the extreme hurt the victims had suffered in coming forward with what had happened to them. I had no clue as to what they were suffering. I got to know some of the victims personally. They had been very courageous in coming forward. I learned that my approach had caused them more pain. I'm deeply sorry for that and would use a much different approach were this to happen again.
In the end, though, much more good than harm came from the Post Register article. Many members of the community contributed to that positive outcome. The community learned how easy it is for a pedophile to remain undetected for years as he grooms his victims. The Boy Scouts have a stronger training program and the laws in Idaho involving pedophiles have been strengthened. Parents and Scout leaders are on the alert to always protect their kids. And the Post Register has upgraded its requirements for accurate, non-biased reporting.
WE NEVER OUTED A GAY PERSON— Among other false rumors, the idea that we outed Peter Zuckerman is absolutely false. I believe if someone were gay and did not want to disclose that, they should absolutely have the right to their own privacy. If anyone were to "out" a gay person against his will, I think that would be an extremely hurtful and wrong action. But, in the case of Peter Zuckerman, that is hardly what happened. For whatever reason, Peter had erred in his articles about the Boy Scouts by unfairly inferring that several innocent people were responsible for unknowingly aiding and abetting a pedophile. The people who knew the facts knew that the articles were inaccurate and sensationalized.
It was public knowledge that Peter Zuckerman was gay. He had never kept that a secret. He had published the fact that he was gay on a website for the entire world to see. The Trish and Holly Show on local radio had been abuzz for several weeks talking about Peter’s sexual orientation and accusing Peter of bias against the Boy Scouts because the Scouts did not allow gay people to be Scout leaders. But I felt Trish and Holly had been unfair in suggesting that was his motivation to write about the Scouts in a negative light. Contrary to what Glenn Greenwald suggests, we defended Peter Zuckerman and his motives. Anyone would have to intentionally twist the truth into a pretzel in order to suggest we either outed Peter or bashed him for being gay. We did the opposite. (See www.communitypagenews.com)