As Americans’ views of China have reached historic lows, Democratic and Republican candidates for office have sought to paint themselves as tough on the country — and their opponents as soft. The authoritarian nation’s ruthless repression of ethnic Uyghur Muslims, handling of Covid-19, and censorship have made it anathema to much of the electorate. In states with industrial legacies such as Pennsylvania, many voters also blame China for the loss of its good-paying manufacturing jobs.
Oz’s negative spot against McCormick is a reference to his former company, Bridgewater Associates, which manages $5 billion for China, including money for China’s sovereign wealth fund. Last November, when McCormick was CEO of Bridgewater, the hedge fund raised a new Chinese investment fund, its third, making the firm one of the top foreign managers of private money in China.
While McCormick warned of China’s rise back in 2006, he also previously made sympathetic comments about the country, saying in a 2007 speech at Peking University, “When China succeeds, the United States succeeds.”
He talked about the “admiration” America had about what China had achieved as well, praising the “remarkable success of China’s economic development over the last three decades.” And in an ironic twist, Bridgewater, while McCormick was still at the firm, owned $3.2 million worth of shares of Usana as of last September, although as a hedge fund, it was not a direct investor in the company but has exposure through indexes to many stocks around the world.
Bridgewater declined to comment for this story.
McCormick, fully aware of the political liability that this poses, has sought to aggressively preempt criticisms over China. He kicked off his campaign with an op-ed in Fox Business titled “Time for America’s leaders to confront China’s Communist Party head on,” in which he said he was so aggressive during his time as a Treasury official that “top Chinese leaders appealed to the president of the United States to soften the technology controls I put in place.” He also distanced himself from his former business partner Ray Dalio’s controversial comments about the country, which appeared to minimize China’s human rights record.
The fact that Oz has exposure on his own relationship with China could give McCormick an opportunity to muddy the waters and make it more difficult for Oz to land a blow on his rival. It may also potentially enable other Republican candidates, such as developer Jeff Bartos, to argue that they’re an alternative free of China ties. Oz and McCormick, both self-funders, are the two top spenders in the GOP Senate primary.
The exact amount that Oz and his show made from its Usana relationship is unclear. But in a 2018 court filing made in a trademark infringement case against Usana, the plaintiff said that Oz’s show was paid more than $50 million in the previous five years to promote the products of Usana.
Oz campaign spokesperson Brittany Yanick said the numbers were “incorrect and overinflated” and Usana spokesperson Dan Macuga also disputed the figure. Both declined to provide their own numbers, citing contractual secrecy obligations.
“Usana was an integrations advertising partner with The Doctor Oz Show, which was paid for the partnership, not Dr. Mehmet Oz directly,” Yanick said. She added that his former TV show’s other partners and sponsors included major U.S. companies such as Procter & Gamble and Walmart, along with many others that paid the Emmy-award winning show for advertising. She also noted that the show aired in more than 100 countries.
“Usana is a publicly traded American company that manufactures products in the U.S. for American consumers and manufactures products in China for that market,” Yanick said. “This should be a model for other U.S. companies, unlike David McCormick’s track record of exporting jobs to China and India from the dark corners of Wall Street.”
In reference to Oz’s connections to China, McCormick campaign spokesperson Jess Szymanski told POLITICO: “Mehmet Oz — citizen of Turkey, creature of Hollywood — has spent the last 20 years making his fortune from syndicating his show in China, enriching itself through censorship and CCP propaganda,” and that “while Mehmet has been silent on China until he needed to knock down Dave’s credentials, Dave was serving our country and standing up to the [Chinese Communist Party].”
In its 2020 annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Usana said that China was its “largest market and single largest source of revenue,” making up around 41 percent of net sales and about 38 percent of its active customers. In other court documents, Usana has said that its Chinese business had several hundred thousand people who are distributors and customers.
In 2017, Usana’s Chinese subsidiary opened a new $40 million, 350,000 square-foot manufacturing facility in Beijing that makes nutritional supplements for its Chinese customers, with a top company executive saying at the time they were “committed to customer growth in China.” Its worldwide corporate headquarters and an adjacent U.S. manufacturing facility are in Salt Lake City. It owns another manufacturing facility in Tianjin, China.
In a 2021 promotional video for his book called “Yin Yang You: Biohacking with Ancient Codes,” Oz talked about how he has “teamed up with Usana for over a decade to journey around the world seeking out the very best science to help you live better and longer.” In the video, Oz lavishly praises Usana and said its “global efforts to seek out health solutions knows no bounds” and that he had a chance to study with “world-renowned” traditional Chinese medicine doctors. A few years earlier, he blew a kiss to employees of Usana in a holiday video.
In addition, Oz has traveled to China for business purposes. After a three-day trip to China in 2018, a press release said Oz “filmed segments for his shows” and conducted interviews with the Chinese state-owned CCTV. Shortly before his trip in 2018, Oz said in a video that he “love[s] working in China” and would be “speaking to Chinese media.” He also went to China the next year for a nutritional conference hosted by Usana BabyCare.
A 2018 annual report by Usana filed with the SEC stated that the company’s partnership with Oz’s TV show “has focused on our North America region historically” but “now focuses on China” as well.
“Usana has had the opportunity to work with Sony Pictures Television, The Dr. Oz Show, and Dr. Mehmet Oz as a Trusted Sponsorship Partner of the Emmy Award-winning program,” Usana’s Macuga said in a statement. “This offered us the unique chance to highlight our products to a large, health-aware television audience. With The Dr. Oz Show ending, our partnership has also come to an end. Dr. Oz is a highly respected physician, and we enjoyed our collaboration with both him and The Dr Oz Show over the last several years.”
Asked about the CCTV interviews, Yanick said, “Dr. Oz has spoken to numerous outlets in countless countries to empower people to take control of their own health. Empowering people is much different than McCormick raising money to benefit the Chinese Communist Party.”
Usana, a publicly traded company, was investigated by the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission several years ago over whether its operations in China complied with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits U.S. companies from paying bribes overseas. The U.S. government closed the probe in June 2020 because, according to Usana, it had quickly disclosed the issue, as well as cooperated with authorities and taken steps to investigate and reform its practices. The company fired some BabyCare employees and senior managers.
Besides Usana, Oz had another major tie to China through his show, which he and Sony brought to the country in 2010 when they launched a Chinese version, called “Health is Most Important,” on Zhejiang Satellite TV.
No public polls in Pennsylvania’s GOP Senate primary have been released since McCormick entered the race last month, though two gubernatorial campaigns in the state recently said their internal surveys found Oz in the lead. Oz, however, has performed poorly in straw polls of members of Pennsylvania’s Republican Party, which will determine this weekend whether to endorse in the Senate contest.
China has played an increasingly prominent role in that race. On Monday, Oz tweeted a link to a news article about his recent visit to northwestern Pennsylvania, where he said at a campaign stop that “China is coming after us.” McCormick tweeted a link the same day to a Breitbart story that trumpeted “Exclusive — Republican Candidate David McCormick Calls for ‘Whole Nation Strategy’ to Combat Chinese Influence.”
A pro-Oz super PAC, American Leadership Action, has aired a TV ad that said McCormick “led a hedge fund with a billion-dollar Chinese investment program,” “called China our ally” and “criticized President Trump’s China policy.” A spot by Oz’s campaign said that “Wall Street outsourced your jobs to China” and called for “leaders with the courage to fight.”
The attack ad by Oz bashing McCormick, which is airing in the Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Wilkes-Barre and Johnstown media markets, said “China sent us Covid, then David McCormick’s hedge fund gave Chinese companies billions — we got sick, China got investments, and David McCormick got rich.”
Sam Sutton contributed to this report.