MasterCard Sues Nader Over ‘Priceless’ Ad

Ralph Nader, the presidential candidate who for years has decried corporate influence in political campaigns, has now been accused of appropriating a corporate ad campaign to sell his candidacy.

The Green Party’s nominee for president has been sued for $35 million by MasterCard International Ltd., for creating a parody of its popular ‘priceless’ television ad for his own campaign.

“The ‘priceless’ campaign is one of the most successful ad campaigns in history and we will do what we can to protect it,” said Sharon Gamsin, a spokeswoman for the credit card company.

The Nader campaign declined to speak specifically about the lawsuit, filed today in federal court in Manhattan, but has scheduled a press conference in Washington for Thursday morning.

Laura Jones, the Nader campaign’s deputy press secretary, said the campaign spot “tapped into the sense of outrage that American people have” about the state of the nation’s political system.

“These two parties are no longer responsive to the American people but rather more interested in catering to their corporate sponsors,” Jones said.

A ‘Priceless’ Parody

In the MasterCard ad, families gather together in separate episodes at places including a beach or baseball game, assigning monetary values to various activities before coming up with an activity that is “Priceless.” The ads conclude: “There are some things in life money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.”

The Nader ad adopts a nearly identical format to focus attention on the role of political contributions in this year’s presidential campaign.

The ad opens with video clips of Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore, as an announcer intones: “Grilled tenderloin for fund-raiser: $1,000 a plate. Campaign ads filled with half-truths: $10 million. Promises to special interest groups: over $10 billion.”

The announcer concludes: “Finding out the truth: Priceless. There are some things money can’t buy. Without Ralph Nader in the presidential debates, the truth will come in last.”

Gamsin said the Nader ad clearly violates copyright laws and is misleading to viewers because it implies the credit card company sanctioned it. “We never minded ‘priceless’ being spoofed in a good-minded noncommercial way as it has been on Saturday Night Live, the Tonight Show and on Letterman,” she said.

Hired Ventura Ad Man

The Nader campaign announced last month that it was hiring William Hillsman, the Minnesota advertising man who helped Gov. Jesse Ventura win his gubernatorial upset victory in 1998, to create a television ad campaign for his race for the presidency.

It was a sign Nader was taking his campaign for the White House seriously. Democrats have expressed some worries that Nader would siphon off liberal votes in many of the nation’s swing states.

The ‘priceless’ campaign ad, which debuted Aug. 6, is still running in Los Angeles despite the lawsuit. Earlier, Hillsman said he was seeking to buy more ad time for the spot in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Ore., and Seattle.

In filing its lawsuit today, MasterCard said it had tried to get the Nader campaign to voluntarily take the ad off the air “in a spirit of cooperation with the ultimate goal of preventing public confusion or mistake.” On Monday, the company threatened to sue.

Nader spokeswoman, Laura Jones, said the filing of the lawsuit appears to show the corporation was trying to interfere with the political process.

“This is just one more example of the ways in which corporations are stepping in and trampling on our American democracy,” Jones said.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.