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.
On April 20, President Obama’s campaign named VanderSloot to 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 is now facing persecution from the federal government. Kimberly Strassel reveals in today’s Wall Street Journal that two federal agencies — the Internal Revenue Service and Labor Department — both launched investigations of VanderSloot after his name appeared on Obama’s enemies list.
In a letter dated June 21, he was informed that his tax records had been “selected for examination” by the Internal Revenue Service. The audit also encompasses Mr. VanderSloot’s wife, and not one, but two years of past filings (2008 and 2009).
Mr. VanderSloot, who is 63 and has been working since his teens, says neither he nor his accountants recall his being subject to a federal tax audit before. He was once required to send documents on a line item inquiry into his charitable donations, which resulted in no changes to his taxes. But nothing more—that is until now, shortly after he wrote a big check to a Romney-supporting Super PAC.
Two weeks after receiving the IRS letter, Mr. VanderSloot received another—this one from the Department of Labor. He was informed it would be doing an audit of workers he employs on his Idaho-based cattle ranch under the federal visa program for temporary agriculture workers.
The H-2A program allows tens of thousands of temporary workers in the U.S.; Mr. VanderSloot employs precisely three. All are from Mexico and have worked on the VanderSloot ranch—which employs about 20 people—for five years. Two are brothers. Mr. VanderSloot has never been audited for this, though two years ago his workers’ ranch homes were inspected. (The ranch was fined $8,400, mainly for too many “flies” and for “grease build-up” on the stove. God forbid a cattle ranch home has flies.)
Strassel acknowledges the investigations could be unrelated to VanderSloot’s inclusion on the enemies list. It reveals, however, the danger of persecuting private individuals for their political donations. It’s something Rory Cooper of The Heritage Foundation predicted would happen months ago:
Prominent donors are often thrust into the spotlight in political campaigns, but this example was extraordinary and unprecedented. The writing was on the wall: If you give to an opposing cause, we will unleash a grassroots effort to destroy your personal reputation. This message delivered on behalf of the most powerful man in the nation has real implications. If the IRS were to audit one of these individuals, how could they not wonder if their political contribution was the root cause?
VanderSloot knew immediately his life changed on April 20. He was initially the subject of hit pieces by left-wing Mother Jones and Salon’s Glenn Greenwald. That was followed by reports of a former Senate Democrat staffer snooping around the local courthouse in Idaho for his divorce records. Now two powerful federal agencies have come after him.
He said the allegations made by the Obama campaign — that he was “litigious, combative, and a bitter foe of the gay rights movement” — are completely false. 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.
That’s what he told me when we sat down for an interview in May:
Rob Bluey directs the Center for Media and Public Policy, an investigative journalism operation at The Heritage Foundation. Follow him on Twitter: @RobertBluey