Republican presidential candidate and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson denied that he had "involvement" with Mannatech, a controversial nutritional supplement company, during the GOP debate on Oct. 28 (video below).
"This is a company called Mannatech, a maker of nutritional supplements, with which you had a 10-year relationship," CNBC debate moderator Carl Quintanilla asked Carson. "They offered claims they could cure autism, cancer. They paid $7 million to settle a deceptive marketing lawsuit in Texas, and yet your involvement continues. Why?"
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. I did a couple speeches for them. I did speeches for other people.
They were paid speeches. It is absolutely absurd to say that I had any kind of relationship with them. Do I take the product? Yes. I think it’s a good product.
Politifact noted, however, that while Carson is not an employee of the company, it's difficult to view his speeches and promotional work for the company as anything other than a complete endorsement of the product. Mannatech also reportedly sees Carson as a promoter of their products.
Barry Bennett, Carson’s campaign manager, told the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 5 that Carson believes in vitamins and supplements and that Carson “never heard anybody make the claims [Mannatech has] gotten in trouble for and he doesn’t believe they should have made those claims.”
Carson told Mannatech sales associates in a 2004 speech (video below) how the medical director of the company prescribed Mannatech's supplements to him when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, noted the newspaper.
In 2007, ABC News reported about some of the controversial cure claims (cancer, multiple sclerosis, AIDS) that some Mannatech sales associates were making and teaching other sales associates to say.
In 2009, Mannatech settled (but did not admit any guilt to) charges of false advertising, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Texas attorney general had accused the company of allowing “deceptive” and “illegal” testimonials at sales meetings and permitting its sales materials to make claims for cures for Down Syndrome, autism, cancer and other conditions. The company paid $7 million to settle the case.
However, despite the settlement, Carson's work with the company continued.
He reportedly appeared in videos that Mannatech posted to its website during the week of Oct. 19. Two of the films were from 2013 and styled to look like commercials. However, the Wall Street Journal notes that after they reached out to Mannatech, the videos disappeared from the company website.
Carson stated in a Mannatech video (below) in 2013:
The wonderful thing about a company like Mannatech is that they recognize that when God made us, he gave us the right fuel. And that fuel was the right kind of healthy food.
...And basically what the company is doing is trying to find a way to restore natural diet as a medicine or as a mechanism for maintaining health.
Bennett said that Mannatech wasn’t allowed to use Carson’s images for publicity, and he added that the campaign told Mannatech to remove mentions of Carson from its website. Carson made a similar statement during the GOP debate.
Carson has reportedly made four paid speeches for Mannatech; the most recent one was in 2013, in which Carson was paid $42,000, the Wall Street Journal reports.
But Mannatech allegedly claimed that payments for previous speeches went to a charity that is affiliated with Carson, and the company told the newspaper that Carson “has never been a paid endorser or spokesman” for Mannatech.
While Carson may not have been an official employee or endorser for Mannatech, his claim that he has no ties to the company is false, Politifact reports. Since Carson is a world-renowned surgeon, his opinion matters, and Mannatech used that to their advantage.