Viewpoint: Should LA County Subsidize Herbalife?

By Eric Preven & Joshua Preven

(Eric Preven and his brother, Palisadian Joshua Preven, are public advocates for better transparency in local government and are occasional contributors to CityWatch, where this article first appeared.)

Just last year Herbalife was fined $200 million by the Federal Trade Commission for being a pyramid scheme—and yet on September 16, at Malibu’s Zuma Beach, thousands of participants and spectators gathered for the “Herbalife International Distance Race Triathlon.”

Here’s a blurb from an Herbalife distributor marketing video: “If you want lifestyle money, if you want to build that financial independence, you need to recruit. And the other thing you need to do, be prepared to roll that cash flow for straight 9 to 12 months. In that short space of time, by making that commitment, you are going to create a foundation for life. Not just for yourself, but a legacy for your family, for your children, and their children’s children.”

The website for the Herbalife International Distance Race Triathlon urges attendees to “stop by the Herbalife booth today to learn how to use their products as part of a healthy training regimen!”

How many of the mothers and fathers who stop by that booth will Herbalife manage to ensnare, playing upon those loving parents’ desire to nurture and protect their children, to create a “legacy” for them? How many of those kids will tumble into poverty, as their unwitting parents pour hard-earned savings into the Herbalife scheme?

Taken as a whole, the “Malibu Triathlon”— of which the Herbalife race is just one part— has much to recommend it. The event raises money for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. It brings together people of all stripes to swim, run and bike at one of the world’s most spectacular meetings of land and sea.

All that needs to be done to make the Malibu Triathlon a wholly positive endeavor is for Herbalife to get dropped as a sponsor. The problem is that the event’s for-profit producer, Michael Epstein Lifestyle Sports Marketing, won’t do it—and wouldn’t do it last year when we first wrote about all this.

Despite Michael Epstein’s refusal to drop Herbalife, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is giving him a $95,000 discount on the standard fee charged for the use of County beaches like Zuma. Why don’t the Supervisors make that discount contingent upon Epstein dropping Herbalife?

(Editor’s note: Individual registration was $220 and VIP registration $450. The Malibu Times estimated that there were more than 5,000 participants in 2016 and wrote: “While a for-profit company produces the event—Michael Epstein Sports Productions, Inc. of Agoura Hills—over a million dollars is donated to the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Pediatric Cancer Research Program.

The Prevens wrote: “The county should simply donate the money directly to Children’s Hospital, in which case, the hospital gets the benefit.” The News contacted Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s office about the sponsorship. They responded on September 15, “Herbalife as a sponsor is a matter for Nautica Malibu Triathlon to consider, not L.A. County. We are very grateful to Nautica Malibu Triathlon for its three decades of charitable work in L.A. County and the tens of millions of dollars that have been raised.”)

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