The federal government has repeatedly warned the multilevel marketing company over representatives' claims that its products help stop COVID-19, Ebola, and other illnesses.
Information posted to the website of Friends of Ron DeSantis, a political action committee supporting the Florida Republican governor, shows that it took $1.3 million from the chair of a multilevel marketing firm that has been warned by federal regulators for making misleading health claims.
A spreadsheet on the website discloses that it received a $1.3 million donation on Feb. 22 from Gregory P. Cook of Pleasant Grove, Utah, a founding executive and chair of the board of doTERRA, a multilevel marketing company that says its mission is "to share the highest-quality essential oils with the world."
The company has been accused by consumer advocates and governmental agencies of misleading marketing efforts.
Like other multilevel marketing companies, doTERRA allows individuals to pay money to become sellers, or "wellness advocates," to collect a percentage of the products they sell.
The Federal Trade Commission says that some multilevel marketing businesses are illegal pyramid schemes, but warns that people who join even those that are legitimate are unlikely to make much money, if any.
In recent years, doTERRA representatives have been accused of making unsubstantiated claims that its products cure or prevent diseases.
According to a report published in Scientific American in March 2020, there is no evidence-backed research documenting that essential oils can cure any illnesses.
In September 2014, the Food and Drug Administration sent a letter to the company noting that its review of both websites and social media accounts promoting doTERRA products found they were sold illegally based on claims that they could treat or prevent medical conditions.
"As described below, the marketing of your dōTERRA Essential Oil products with drug claims and without FDA approved-applications is in violation" of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the letter notes, citing claims by sellers that the products help treat or stop "conditions including, but not limited to, viral infections (including ebola), bacterial infections, cancer, brain injury, autism, endometriosis, Grave’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, tumor reduction, ADD/ADHD, and other conditions that are not amenable to self-diagnosis and treatment by individuals who are not medical practitioners."
The company did not immediately respond to an American Independent Foundation inquiry for this story, but a spokesperson told the Provo, Utah-based Daily Herald in a statement at the time, "We recognize essential oils have profound health benefits, but do not claim our products cure or treat diseases including the Ebola virus or any other disease," adding:
We are pleased to share that in our normal course of compliance auditing practices, we were already working to correct distributors marketing materials referenced in the FDA letter. Since receiving the letter, we have contacted all the distributors who own the sites in question. They have all corrected or are working to correct their marketing materials to ensure they are compliant with FDA and company regulations.
In October 2019, the consumer advocacy group Truth in Advertising said that it had documented "more than 140 examples of doTerra distributors claiming the company's essential oils can treat or alleviate the symptoms of a number of health conditions, including ADHD, autism, cancer, diabetes, endometriosis, epilepsy and PTSD, just to name a few."
In April 2020, the Federal Trade Commission sent its own warning letter to the company, citing: "social media posts made by doTERRA International, LLC ("doTERRA") business opportunity participants or representatives that unlawfully advertise that certain products treat or prevent Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and misrepresent that consumers who become doTERRA business opportunity participants are likely to earn substantial income."
"You are responsible for the claims of your business opportunity participants and Representatives," the agency noted. "You are advised to review all claims relating to your products and business opportunity and immediately cease, and require your business opportunity participants and representatives to cease, making claims that are not supported by the evidence or substantiation described above."
A company spokesperson told the New York Times that month that doTERRA was "working to address the concerns" and "has been steadfast in its efforts to comply with relevant laws and regulations."
Truth in Advertising reported that three doTERRA distributors had been fined $15,000 each for unproven claims that the products could treat or prevent COVID-19.
Friends of DeSantis did not immediately respond to questions about the donations.
The term-limited governor is reportedly considering a 2024 presidential campaign.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.