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Both the Amway and Herbalife cases underscore one of the problems of prosecuting alleged pyramid schemes: There is no federal law defining the crime, leaving it to the courts to interpret and pricey lawyers to find wiggle room. The debate is also clouded by the rhetoric of free markets. At the far right end of that debate is the DeVos family, which has donated $200 million to Republicans over the years, and owns a company that combines Christian fundamentalism with extremist free-market ideology and maintains such a grip on many of those who join it that some, fearful for their lives and harassed mercilessly, went into hiding after they sought to expose it.

Jim’s friend who recruited him into the company starts telling Jim that the way you really start making money with Company A is recruiting other people beneath you to sell shakes. “When you sign someone up,” explains Jim’s friend, “you will start getting a 10% commission on the product your recruit is required to buy from Company A in order to qualify as a distributor. If you can get 3 people to sign up, it means you would be earning 10% commission on all the product those 3 recruits are required to buy, plus whatever they purchase beyond that minimum.”

With her departure on Feb. 10, there are only two commissioners remaining on the FTC and the acting chairwoman, Republican Maureen Ohlhausen, is a staunch supporter of self-regulation by MLMs. Trump will appoint three new FTC commissioners, including the chairperson. Whether it’s Ohlhausen or someone else, the next chairperson is also likely to be sympathetic to the MLM cause. The only name floated for the spot so far has been Republican Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who was also greeted with glee by MLM shareholders when his consideration was reported by Politico on Jan. 17.

At the corporate level, multi-level marketing communicates a clear picture of the company and its products to consultants—and by extension, to its customers and potential future consultants. The goal of MLM is not only to excite consumers about a product, but to attract a percentage of people to the possibility of selling that products. Therefore, the art of persuasion is fundamental to MLM—an art honed in marketing programs across the country.


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