Romney finance co-chair VanderSloot and his distasteful practice of threatening journalists

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Trevor Timm comments on billionaire Frank VanderSloot's "systematic campaign to silence journalists and bloggers from publishing stories about his political views and business practices." VanderSloot, the CEO of Melaleuca, Inc. (Wikipedia calls it "a multi-level marketing dietary supplement and cosmetics company", Forbes called it "a pyramid-selling organization," and the State of Michigan called it "an illegal pyramid") is also finance co-chair the Romney campaign. He has long used copyright threats and libel threats to intimidate journalists in his home state of Idaho, and now that his work takes place on a national stage, he has expanded his scope accordingly.

An excellent, faintly terrifying Salon article by Glenn Greenwald sets out the case in detail, and Timm adds some wider context and notes that the Streisand Effect has kicked in, increasing awareness of VanderSloot's views and practices.

At the beginning of February, a blogger for the The Idaho Agenda was forced to take down a post after receiving a defamation suit threat from Melaleuca’s in house counsel. The author indicated that he took it down because he feared the expensive litigation battle but insisted that “the facts included in the post are a matter of public record found elsewhere, including the internet, periodicals and newspapers.”

Back in 2007, Melaleuca pressured the politics blog 43rdStateBlues to take down a critical post written by a pseudonymous blogger “TomPaine.” Another blogger on 43rdStateBlues, “d2”, posted the lawyer’s letter explaining to readers why the original was taken down. Incredibly, Melaleuca’s lawyers then obtained a retroactive copyright certificate on the threat letter and demanded the hosting provider take down the post as well. Even after they complied with the letter, Melaleuca sued TomPaine for copyright infringement then subpoenaed TomPaine’s and d2’s identity.

...Now, VanderSloot is at it again. He and his company's lawyers has targeted a local Idaho independent journalist Jody May-Chang over posts that are four years old. Melaleuca’s lawyers have challenged a series of articles written by May-Chang, most notably this one in which she describes VanderSloot’s funding of the billboard campaign and opines that he is “anti-gay.” Melaleuca first sent a letter to May-Chang in 2007, asking not only to correct the post but to take down the stock photograph of VanderSloot that was on his personal website (a common practice among journalists). The photo was taken down but the posts stayed up at a new URL. After re-discovering the post last month, they sent another letter to May-Chang repeated their demands from 2007, but May-Chang has held her ground and kept the post up despite the threat of costly litigation.

Allow me to take this opportunity to remind Mr VanderSloot and his counsel of Boing Boing's long history of using anti-SLAPP statutes and withering scorn in the face of groundless censorship and intimidation attempts, and the Streisand Effect accruing thereto.

Billionaire’s Bogus Legal Tactics Against Bloggers Threaten Free Speech


  1. This is the problem with the law surrounding defamation in the US.  No matter who is “right”, the party with the most money wins.  It’s the same with libel law.

    You need to switch to a system like the UK has,  where you have to demonstrate that something *is* actually defamatory or actually libellous, for your case to have any merit.  If the lawsuit between Simon Singh and The British Chiropractic Association had been fought in an American court, he’d have lost with absolutely no chance of winning.

    1. Can’t you just have to prefix everything with “I believe” to avoid defamation and libel? Since it shifts the factual claim over to what one believes, but still conveys the same base message.

      I believe this guy is an asshole. I believe this person is anti-gay. I believe he is a space alien hellbent on destroying humanity.

      1.  Hence the running joke on light-hearted UK TV programmes about saying “… allegedly” at the end of a potentially dodgy sentence, yes.

        Over here, something is not libellous if it is either demonstrably true or presented as opinion.

    2. Not so much, Gordon, I fear you have it reversed. In the United States, the plaintiff must demonstrate that something was libelous. In the United Kingdom, the defendant has the burden of proving that the statement was not libelous. For a good book on the subject, take a look at Emory Professor Deborah Lipstadt’s book “History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving.”

      1. Yeah. Libel suits are quite rare in the US because they’re so hard to win.

      2.  It’s trivially easy to win a libel case in the UK, you just have to be telling the truth.

        In the US, you have to have more money than the other guy and you can say what you like.  This is one of the reasons why the US’s SLAPP lawsuits are so particularly nasty.

  2. I gotta admit, that whole copyrighting-the-legal-letter thing was pretty clever.  To quote Ron Burgundy, “I’m not even mad — that’s amazing!”

    They should’ve gone and retroactively trademarked their blog’s name and user pseudonyms, so any use of them in the letter would’ve been a trademark violation.

    1. And to anyone who reads the whole Greenwald article, his implications of VaderSloot outing the newspaper reporter are misleading.  The reporter had already been outed by a local radio show who accused him of being biased against Boy Scouts and LDS, and the VanderSloot ad was refuting those accusations.

      1. Unenthusiastically “refuting” little known accusations with full page adverts could be more seen as repeating them. 

  3. My mom just purchased a huge load of their stuff. I’ll make sure that never happens again.

  4. Hmm… he’s on the board at the US Chamber of Commerce. I am shocked, shocked, to hear that he indulges in ethically distasteful practices.

  5. If comments on the Salon article are any indication, the VanderSloot trollbot postpeople will be  spamming these comments soon. Let the countdown begin 3 … 2 …

  6. And another round of kudos to Glenn Greenwald, the guy to first shed big light on this particular worm. Salon was brave enough to publish a blistereing attack after so many others had caved.

  7. It wasn’t that long ago that you heard these popular terms:


  8. Wait, remember Cory’s post
    Teen survivors of American religious brainwashing camps speak

    Isn’t this the guy who is financially involved in those camps ? Lobbies for them in Washington ?

  9. WAIT JUST A MINUTE HERE.  “VanderSloot”?????  Any relation to Joran the Caribbean ladykiller?

  10. Come on, Boingers!  I know these guys are awful and all, but their name is just so much fun to say!


  11. How deliciously refreshing to finally see a page of comments about Vandersloot that not only do NOT sound like they were all written by the same person, but sound like they were written by a lot of REAL people (who don’t get paid to kiss his backside) who see him for exactly the megalomaniac creep that he is. It’ll be nice while it lasts…sigh.

  12. The possibility that a major politician’s money man is a creep: high
    The possibility that the melaleuca bush would feature prominently on BoingBoing on consecutive days: low


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