Frank VanderSloot grew up a poor kid in rural Idaho. His father made $300 a month. His clothes came from the Salvation Army. Yet through determination and hard work—and with the help of America’s free-enterprise system—today he’s the successful CEO of a global supplier of wellness products.
VanderSloot’s rags-to-riches story is not unlike other American tales of individuals who have benefited from the free market. In VanderSloot’s case, however, that success came with a price—but only when he decided a write a check to a super PAC that supports Mitt Romney.
“The whole free-enterprise system has been so good to me and my family, I want to protect that,” he said. “I now see that system under attack.”
VanderSloot traveled from Idaho this week to visit The Heritage Foundation. He spoke at the weekly Bloggers Briefing and sat down afterward to share his story.
VanderSloot said his life changed forever on April 20. That’s when President Obama’s campaign created the first presidential “enemies list” since the Nixon era. Eight private citizens were singled out for their donations to Romney. They committed no crimes, sought no attention, and yet they became the subject of Obama’s scorn.
VanderSloot got his first taste of the left’s tactics in February when he was the subject of hit pieces by left-wing Mother Jones and Salon’s Glenn Greenwald. Both stories surprised VanderSloot for their harsh and negative portrayal of Melaleuca, the company he has overseen for 26 years.
“We have an excellent reputation everywhere we go,” VanderSloot said. “I don’t have a PR firm. My attitude has been, ‘If we’re worthy of a good reputation, we’ll have one.’ And that’s worked for 26 years until this comes out. And then people are saying all kinds of things about us.”
But that backlash paled in comparison to the negative attention created by Obama’s team. The campaign website KeepingGOPHonest.com castigated the eight Romney donors as having “less-than-reputable records. Quite a few have been on the wrong side of the law, others have made profits at the expense of so many Americans.”
The resulting attention led to a loss of business for Melaleuca. Only when VanderSloot began speaking out to publicly defend his reputation and the company’s record did he begin to receive an outpouring of support.
Conservatives, meanwhile, quickly pounced on Obama’s attack. The Heritage Foundation’s Rory Cooper wrote, “President Obama has relied on a vast grassroots network to coerce, bully, boycott and vilify individuals lawfully taking part in the political process, just as his own donors and supporters are freely allowed to engage.”
Kimberly Strassel wrote two subsequent columns for the Wall Street Journal and VanderSloot told his story on Fox News.
VanderSloot said he was initially unprepared for the Obama campaign’s assault on his character. Some of the allegations—that he was “litigious, combative, and a bitter foe of the gay rights movement”—are completely false. It didn’t seem to matter.
Now, however, he isn’t going to let anyone sully his reputation—even if it means taking the fight directly to the most powerful man in America.
“There is no way I could afford to run for cover because it just sets a bad example,” VanderSloot said. “When you make a list of eight people, it’s like saying, ‘Just watch what we do to these guys.’ I don’t know the other seven guys. I just know for me, I can’t run for cover and I have no inclination to. This is America.”