When the 10 Republican candidates took the stage on Wednesday evening for a third debate, this time in Boulder, Colo., their conversation centered on the economy, and a few health issues were intrinsic to that discussion, including equal pay for women, Medicare and Medicaid, and preventive care. Ben Carson also fielded a question from the CNBC moderators on his personal finances, when they questioned his involvement with a shady supplement company. Here, the answers to a few questions piqued by the candidate’s discussions.
1. What exactly is Ben Carson’s relationship with supplement maker Mannatech? (And how could a neurosurgeon ever support a product that claims to “cure” an incurable degenerative neurological disorder?)
As moderator Carl Quintanilla asked Dr. Ben Carson last night, “This is a company called Mannatech, a maker of nutritional supplements, with which you had a 10-year relationship. They offered claims they could cure autism, cancer, they paid $7 million to settle a marketing lawsuit in Texas, and yet you’re involvement continued. Why?”
And while Carson replied, “Well, that’s easy to answer. I didn’t have an involvement with them. That is total propaganda, and this is what happens in our society. Total propaganda” — the truth is somewhat more complicated.
In a 2004 speech to the Mannatech team, Carson shared that he saw many of the symptoms of his prostate cancer go away after he began taking Mannatech supplements.
An investigation launched by the Wall Street Journal earlier this month discloses the nuances of the situation. While the Carson campaign insists that Carson only gave paid speeches at Mannatech corporate events, the WSJ reports that a 2011 video shows Carson thanking Mannatech executives for the $2.5 million donation that allowed him to assume an endowed chair at Johns Hopkins Medicine in May 2008.
Concurrent to the creation of the Mannatech-funded endowed chair for Carson in pediatric neurosurgery, the supplement maker was also being prosecuted by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (now the state’s governor) for unlawful marketing practices, noting that the company claimed their product could cure autism, non-Hodkin’s lymphoma, and various cardiac conditions.
Another Mannatech product, Abrotose, was shilled by the company with the insistence that it offered “a miracle cure that could fix a broad range of diseases, from cancer to multiple sclerosis and AIDS.”
Furthermore, in 2004, Mannatech faced an additional suit specifically involving the supplement’s claims to effectively offer treatment for Tay-Sachs disease, a genetically inherited degenerative neurological disorder that always results in death. A mother of a child with Tay-Sachs who used Mannatech products to treat her son went on to file suit against the company in Los Angeles Superior Court, claiming intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent misrepresentation, and conspiracy to commit fraud. Not only are Mannatech supplements unable to “treat” Tay-Sachs disease, a condition for which there is no treatment, but, the plaintiff claimed, the Mannatech sales associate with whom her family had worked shared naked photos of her son at a Mannatech demonstration seminar as part of a presentation on the product’s effectiveness.
Yet despite all of this, Carson continued his relationship with the company. In March 2014, he went so far as to film a special for PBS on the power of “glyconutrients,” the core component of Mannatech’s widely debunked products.
In a statement to the National Review, Mannatech said that “Dr. Carson is not a spokesperson or endorser of Mannatech” — and yet the Mannatech site continued to promote Carson’s PBS special, which offered an indirect endorsement of its products, including the use of language seemingly lifted directly from Mannatech sales collateral.
Carson received $42,000 for the most recent speech he gave to Mannatech associates in 2013.
2. Why are Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz reluctant to admit that women deserve equal pay for equal work?
“Senator Cruz,” moderator Becky Quick posed, “working women in this country still earn just 77 percent of what men earn. And I know that you’ve said you’ve been very sympathetic to our cause. But you’ve also said that the Democrats’ moves to try and change this are political show votes. I just wonder what you would do as president to try and help in this cause?”