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The story behind Frank VanderSloot’s $250 donation to Barack Obama

Idaho Falls

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IDAHO FALLS — When Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot makes headlines, it’s often because he’s giving away money.

Earlier this year, VanderSloot donated $1 million to defend people dealing with unscrupulous medical debt collectors. He also spent a significant amount of money crafting state legislation to limit medical debt collection.

VanderSloot is also known to be a frequent contributor to the Republican Party, and its local, state and national candidates.

So it came as a surprise to some last week when medical debt collector and Idaho Freedom Foundation board member Bryan Smith published an editorial in the Post Register entitled “Obama donor Frank VanderSloot — not what he pretends to be.”

After the story was reposted on social media by the Idaho Freedom Action 501c4, EastIdahoNews.com received a number of reader requests to look into the truthfulness of the “Obama-donor” headline.

Turns out — it’s true, although the claim is more than a little misleading.

National campaign finance databases show on July, 11, 2008, VanderSloot donated $250 to former President Barack Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Around the same time, VanderSloot or members of his family gave $5,300 to Obama’s opponent Sen. John McCain. In total that year, the VanderSloot family donated around $175,000 to Republicans alongside the $250 to Obama.

So what’s the deal? VanderSloot tells EastIdahoNews.com he lost a bet. The winner got to choose a candidate for the loser to donate to and in this case, it was Obama.

“Given how much we raised — for someone to say I was an Obama-supporter is just absurd,” VanderSloot said.

Smith’s editorial also claims VanderSloot donated to former Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh. This is true, but could use some context. The Center for Responsive Politics shows VanderSloot donated $1,000 to Bayh in 2009. But that year the VanderSloot family also donated about $75,000 to Republicans.

When asked, VanderSloot said he doesn’t remember the circumstances, although he believes he was asked by another Republican legislator to make the donation.

EastIdahoNews.com went through national campaign contribution records from 2000 to 2018 and found these were the only two donations to Democrats. There are pages of Republican contributions. The largest single contribution was $1 million from Melaleuca to Mitt Romney’s Restoring Our Future Super PAC in 2012.

Besides the contributions, Smith also claimed VanderSloot endorses Democrats — including his backing of Cindy Wilson for Idaho Superintendent of Public Education in 2018. That’s also true, and you can read about that decision here.

VanderSloot told EastIdahoNews.com although he primarily votes for Republican candidates, sometimes a candidate is “so bad” you just can’t support them.

“There have been times I vote for a Democrat,” he said. “I vote for the person who will do the best job, and when the other candidate is really bad, it’s really easy to make that choice.”

VanderSloot said he knew some in the Republican party would start attacking him when he recently spoke out against the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

“They try to twist the truth and that’s the problem I have with the Idaho Freedom Foundation. They twist things to make things look like they are not,” VanderSloot said. “They have these diehards … who call everyone RINOs –‘Republicans in name only.’ But I think these guys are CINOs — ‘Conservatives in name only.’ The conservatives I know tell the truth, they’re honorable, they care about other people, they are willing to work with the other side … real conservatives think for themselves.”

For information on VanderSloot’s national political contributions visit OpenSecrets.org and the Center for Responsive Politics.

For information on VanderSloot’s state and local contributions visit the Idaho Secretary of State’s website.

DISCLAIMER: In 2015, Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot provided the seed money to launch EastIdahoNews.com. For a short time, he was an owner. He has never had anything to do with the operations of EastIdahoNews.com. Over two year ago, he totally divested his ownership.

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