Investigation into personal lives as intimidation tactics by the Obama “truth squad” is reprehensible.
First a Romney supporter was named on an Obama campaign website. That was followed by the slimy trolling into a citizen’s private life.
Here’s what happens when the president of the United States publicly targets a private citizen for the crime of supporting his opponent.
Frank VanderSloot is the CEO of Melaleuca Inc. The 63-year-old has run that wellness-products company for 26 years out of tiny Idaho Falls, Idaho. Last August, Mr. VanderSloot gave $1 million to Restore Our Future, the Super PAC that supports Mitt Romney.
Three weeks ago, an Obama campaign website, “Keeping GOP Honest,” took the extraordinary step of publicly naming and assailing eight private citizens backing Mr. Romney. Titled “Behind the curtain: a brief history of Romney’s donors,” the post accused the eight of being “wealthy individuals with less-than-reputable records.” Mr. VanderSloot was one of the eight, smeared particularly as being “litigious, combative and a bitter foe of the gay rights movement.”
About a week after that post, a man named Michael Wolf contacted the Bonneville County Courthouse in Idaho Falls in search of court records regarding Mr. VanderSloot. Specifically, Mr. Wolf wanted all the documents dealing with Mr. VanderSloot’s divorces, as well as a case involving a dispute with a former Melaleuca employee.
Mr. Wolf sent a fax to the clerk’s office—which I have obtained—listing four cases he was after. He would later send a second fax, asking for three further court cases dealing with either Melaleuca or Mr. VanderSloot. Mr. Wolf listed only his name and a private cellphone number.
Some digging revealed that Mr. Wolf was, until a few months ago, a law clerk on the Democratic side of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He’s found new work. The ID written out at the top of his faxes identified them as coming from “Glenn Simpson.” That’s the name of a former Wall Street Journal reporter who in 2009 founded a D.C. company that performs private investigative work.
The website for that company, Fusion GPS, describes itself as providing “strategic intelligence,” with expertise in areas like “politics.” That’s a polite way of saying “opposition research.”
When I called Fusion’s main number and asked to speak to Michael Wolf, a man said Mr. Wolf wasn’t in the office that day but he’d be in this coming Monday. When I reached Mr. Wolf on his private cell, he confirmed he had until recently worked at the Senate.
When I asked what his interest was in Mr. VanderSloot’s divorce records, he hesitated, then said he didn’t want to talk about that. When I asked what his relationship was with Fusion, he hesitated again and said he had “no comment.” “It’s a legal thing,” he added.
Fusion dodged my calls, so I couldn’t ask who was paying it to troll through Mr. VanderSloot’s divorce records. Mr. Simpson finally sent an email stating: “Frank VanderSloot is a figure of interest in the debate over civil rights for gay Americans. As his own record on gay issues amply demonstrates, he is a legitimate subject of public records research into his lengthy history of legal disputes.”
A look through Federal Election Commission records did not show any payments to Fusion or Mr. Wolf from political players, such as the Democratic National Committee, the Obama campaign, or liberal Super PACs. Then again, when political groups want to hire researchers, it is not uncommon to hire a less controversial third party, which then hires the researchers.
This is not the first attack on Mr. VanderSloot. While the executive has been a force in Idaho politics and has helped Mr. Romney raise money, he’s not what most would consider a national political power player. Through 2011, nearly every mention of Mr. VanderSloot appeared in Idaho or Washington state newspapers, often in reference to his business.
That changed in January, with the first Super PAC disclosures. Liberal bloggers and media have since dug into his past, dredging up long-ago Idaho controversies that touched on gay issues. His detractors have spiraled these into accusations that Mr. VanderSloot is a “gay bashing thug.” He’s become a national political focus of attention, aided by the likes of partisan Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. Bloggers have harassed his children, visiting their social media accounts and asking for interviews and information.
Mr. VanderSloot has said his attackers have misconstrued facts and made false allegations. In February he wrote a long reply, publicly stating that he has “many gay friends whom I love and respect” who should “have the same freedoms and rights as any other individual.” The Obama campaign’s response, in April, was to single out Mr. VanderSloot and repeat the slurs.
Political donations don’t come with a right to privacy, and Mr. VanderSloot might have expected a spotlight. Then again, President Obama, in the wake of the Gabby Giffords shooting, gave a national address calling for “civility” in politics. Yet rather than condemn those demeaning his opponent’s donors, Mr. Obama—the nation’s most powerful man—instead publicly named individuals, egging on the attacks. What has followed is the slimy trolling into a citizen’s private life.
Mr. VanderSloot acknowledges that “when I first learned that President Obama’s campaign had singled me out on his ‘enemies list,’ I knew it was like taping a target on my back.” But the more he’s thought it through, “the public beatings and false accusations that followed are no deterrent. These tactics will not work in America.” He’s even “contemplating a second donation.”
Still. If details about Mr. VanderSloot’s life become public, and if this hurts his business or those who work for him, Mr. Obama will bear responsibility. This is what happens when the president makes a list.
A version of this article appeared May 11, 2012, on page A11 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Trolling for Dirt on the President’s List.