Mehmet Oz rose to fame telling millions of viewers to hand over their money to supplement companies selling products of questionable medical value.
Now, the Garden State resident and heart surgeon is asking for money for himself to underwrite his 2022 bid for the Republican nomination for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat.
And just like viewers hoping for a healthier life, if Oz’s political supporters aren’t mindful of the fine print, they may not know what they are agreeing to.
Oz, along with fellow Republican Dave White, who’s running for governor, are the latest GOP candidates who have included pre-checked boxes on their fundraising solicitations that set up donors to make indefinite campaign contributions.
Both candidates are self-proclaimed millionaires and successful businessmen, whose personal wealth could be an asset as they both attempt to win competitive statewide primary elections in 2022.
Yet both also are taking advantage of a fundraising strategy, pioneered by former GOP President Donald Trump, that can juice a campaign’s finances, but has been criticized by members of both parties as unethical, and that the Federal Election Commission has asked Congress to ban.
In a statement, Marisa Nahem, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said that the candidates are “taking plays from Trump’s failed playbook.”
“The Republican ‘Super MAGA’ primary candidates are in it for themselves and they’re willing to scam unwitting Pennsylvanians just to survive a crowded and messy primary — it’s clear that Pennsylvania Republicans are more interested in propping up their far-right campaigns than putting the people first,” Nahem said.
Oz’s website displays the boxes after hitting potential donors with a campaign pitch.
“I’ve spent my career in medicine working to empower people to take control of their own lives,” the pitch, which includes a smiling picture of Oz, reads. “The government wants to tell you how to live your life, provide for your family, and make your health care decisions. I believe YOU should be in control to take back the power and feel like you are in control of YOUR life again.”
The site then suggests donations of between $25 to $2,900 — the FEC maximum for an individual donation.
Underneath the amounts are two check boxes in yellow. The first, already checked, makes the donation repeat monthly.
The second box has another plea for dollars.
“Dr. Oz is committed to putting the power back in the hands of the people. He needs you to join the Mid-Month Money Pledge to ensure that he has the support he needs to become Pennsylvania’s next Conservative Senator. Stand strong with him today!” the button reads.
Underneath, in small text, is the consequence of keeping the box checked: Another automatic donation on Dec. 15.
On the evening of Dec. 1, the box listed the donation as $10. The next day, the donation amount is listed as zero, although the box remains pre-checked.
Oh and look at that, Dr. Oz is also using it, plus a pre-checked box to take an extra $10 on Dec. 15. pic.twitter.com/h9wihcybZe— Stephen Caruso (@StephenJ_Caruso) December 1, 2021
Oz’s campaign did not reply to a request for comment.
White, a Delaware County entrepreneur running to be Pennsylvania’s next chief executive, also has used the pre-checked box, even after he said he’s put $2 million of his own money into the race.
His donation page has less pageantry. It just asks for a donation “to support Dave White WIN his race for Governor,” suggesting between $25 to $1,000 contributions.
White’s campaign did not reply to a request for comment.
Beneath is another yellow tinged checkbox already marked for recurring donations.
At least three statewide Republican candidates already have used the pre-checked box — gubernatorial candidate Bill McSwain and Senate candidates Kathy Barnette and Sean Parnell, who has suspended his campaign.
The main donation tabs on Barnette’s website now does not use the pre-checked box. Depending on the link, some fundraising portals for the McSwain campaign still use the boxes. For instance, text messages from the McSwain campaign encourage donors to make recurring donations and give an extra donation mid-month under a warning that the “liberal mob is ready to do whatever it takes to maintain their control of critical states like PA.”
Multiple GOP gubernatorial candidates criticized the tactic earlier in this year. Gubernatorial candidate Joe Gale, an elected Montgomery County commissioner, called it a “scam;” Pittsburgh attorney Jason Richey said, if elected, he’d sign legislation banning it under state campaign finance laws.
All five of the candidates who used the boxes raised funds with WinRed, a Republican-aligned fundraising platform. The organization did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Stephen Caruso is a reporter for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.