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Nevada Today

Nevada Today is a nonpartisan, independently owned and operated site dedicated to providing up-to-date news and smart analysis on the issues that impact Nevada's communities and businesses.

EditorialsNevada LegislatureThe Economy

Let’s Get Real: How a Former Nevada Legislator’s New Business Venture Illustrates One of the Greatest Economic Challenges of Our Time

Today, we’re doing something a little different. We’re looking back to the Nevada Legislature of four years ago and taking a second look at an obscure federal agency’s ruling from forty years ago to help you make sense of something you may have caught on Instagram some four minutes ago.

Still with me here? I hope so, as we’re about to uncover the real truth about those “too-good-to-be-true business opportunities” that have become all too prevalent in our society.

A brief #NVLeg history lesson with Brent Jones
Photo by Andrew Davey

Last week, I stumbled onto a Reddit post that rang quite a few bells in my head. Long story short, someone was alerted to a company called Real Abundance. The company promises people can “be their own boss” and “own their own business” if they buy a starter kit, yet the boss of Real Abundance has a very familiar name for anyone who’s familiar with recent Nevada Legislature history.

Brent Jones (R-Las Vegas) first ran for the State Senate in 2012, but lost the Republican primary in Senate District 9 in the Southwest Las Vegas Valley to Mari St. Martin. He reemerged two years later to run for Assembly District 35 (which is nested in SD 9), but this time he won alongside other Republicans who were lifted into office by “The Great Red Tide of 2014”.

Photo by Andrew Davey

While in office he sponsored or cosponsored several “right-wing wish list” bills, including voter ID, “religious freedom” (as in, license to discriminate), and attacks on unions. However the one bill that really got my attention and others’ was AB 269, which would have essentially done away with professional licensing for a number of occupations, including medical professionals.

At the time, I scratched my head over that bill. But years later, I’d see this bill in a new light upon learning about the Church of Scientology, its rabid hatred of mental health care professionals, and its embrace of “alternative medicine” and other forms of pseudoscience. In case you were wondering, Jones is a member of the Church of Scientology.

So what’s so real about this abundance?

Despite Republicans holding virtually all the reins of state government in 2015, none of Brent Jones’ bills became law. The following year, Jones lost his seat in the Assembly. Then in 2018, Jones ran for Lieutenant Governor and lost the Republican primary to then State Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson (R-Henderson), who then lost the general election to current Lt. Governor Kate Marshall (D).

Even though Jones’ luck may have run out in politics, his business is still on a roll. Even while in the Legislature, Jones was promoting his Real Water line of “alkalized” SNWA tap water. And even while on the campaign trail last year, Jones was fending off claims that he requires employees to take entry-level Scientology courses to remain in good standing.

And now, Jones has Real Abundance: a multi-level marketing (MLM) company that promises the ability “build a business right from home” without the worries of overhead, yet with the benefit of “always earn[ing] commissions on the Distributors you introduce to Get Real Abundance, continually reaping the benefits of your hard work.” Doesn’t that sound so good? Perhaps it really is too good… To be true.

MLM: The new “voodoo economics”?

Real Abundance is just one of many MLM companies out there promising some variation of fame and fortune for “little cost and no risk!” Though it remains to be seen what exactly becomes of Real Abundance, there’s quite the abundance of horror stories involving people losing their financial, physical, and psychological well-being to MLM’s. No really, people risk losing it all by plowing money into product packages that they then try to sell to us via Facebook, Instagram, house party, or perhaps the good ol’-fashioned door-to-door pitch.

Why is there such a stark disconnect between the perception and the reality of MLM’s? Think about the real costs of opening one’s own business. MLM’s promise all of the gain with none of the pain, so we’re inclined to “feel the fantasy” and order that starter kit that will get us on the fast track to success.

But really, are we “running our own small businesses” by continually buying and selling products, and feeling pressure to recruit more people to buy and sell such products? Real small businesses open their own (virtual and/or physical) stores, decide what they want to sell and how much to sell, and decide for themselves whether they want to run a franchise or affiliate with a larger brand in some other way. MLM’s, however, require their “small business owners” to buy their products and incentivize them to recruit others by offering commissions on such downline recruits.

Why can’t we call them pyramid schemes… And really, why should we be scheming at all?

Ever since the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ruled in favor of MLM pioneer Amway in 1979, MLM’s have expanded their reach and their downlines across the nation. Their influence now reaches all the way into the White House and stretches all the way to our TV screens.

Thanks to that 1979 FTC ruling, federal and state governmental agencies try to distinguish “fraudulent pyramid schemes” from “legitimate MLM operations”, even though both are based on the same business model of endless recruiting downward to funnel money upward. Unless you’re fortunate enough to get in on a MLM company early, you’ll probably have trouble figuring out how to make a living off selling insert-your-favorite-MLM-product-here via social media. (If you’re still struggling to believe me on this, look up “the airplane game” and get back to me later.)

Maybe Brent Jones’ new MLM will be different. Maybe Real Abundance will live up to its name and provide abundant success to all its downlines. But if it doesn’t quite work out that way, none of us should be surprised. However we should all keep in mind that this issue goes away beyond Brent Jones, even if he just so happens to provide a prime local example of how MLM’s work.

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