Earlier this month, Salon reported that Mitt Romney mega donor and national finance co-chair Frank VanderSloot has used his fortune to bludgeon journalists and critics into removing articles critical of him and his business by threatening defamation lawsuits. Glenn Greenwald extensively documents how VanderSloot and lawyers for his Idaho-based health and home good company Melaleuca have forced Forbes, Mother Jones and a local gay blogger to yank articles critical of his political and business practices.
The story has gotten some legs, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow picked it up, for example, but it hasn't yet become part of the campaign narrative. But that may not last for long. The VanderSloot storyline -- ultra-wealthy businessman uses his clout to kick around the little guys -- only serves to widen the perceived gulf between Romney's world and the real world, where voters actually live. And unlike owning a couple of Caddies or making a $10,000 bet, Romney would be hard pressed to explain it away as a product of success. In fact, it's what most middle class folks hate most about the rich, the feeling that they're getting stepped on.
Still, with wealthy benefactors of their own, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul may be hesitant to throw the first stone in this particular glass house. And, of course, threatening journalists and bloggers is not exactly a cardinal sin among the GOP base.
But with Santorum needing to sharpen his populist pitch, Greenwald's story could provide an effective, and much more visceral, attack than we've seen in the race so far. And, should Romney win the nomination, it's almost certainly a nugget in the Democrats' opposition research file.
And near as I can tell, Romney has yet to answer questions regarding his supporter's tactics. Did he know of VanderSloot's reported pattern of threatening journalists critical of his interests? Does Romney agree with that response? And does Romney stand by VanderSloot? I put those, and other, questions to a campaign spokeswoman but did not get a response.
For VanderSloot's part, he issued a lengthy statement in response to Greenwald's piece that read, in part, "we make no apology for rising to defend our reputation when we are wrongly accused" and "it is simply unfair to accuse us of bullying people into submission."
But, unfair or not, the bigger question seems to be whether Romney's opponents will use the accusation against him.