The Associated Press
PORTAGE, Wis. - Publishers Clearing House went on trial over its sweepstakes promotions for the first time yesterday, with state lawyers accusing it of preying on the elderly with misleading advertising.
State lawyer Cynthia Hirsch said the sweepstakes' mailings dupe people into buying maga zines and other merchandise in hopes of improving their chances of winning the jackpots, which can run into the millions.
"The essential misleading deception Publishers Clearing House communicates is the more you buy, the closer you get to the big prize," she said.
In the civil case, the state is seeking an unspecified amount of money to reimburse residents it says were defrauded. It also wants the sweepstakes to change its marketing practices and pay a penalty.
In August, Publishers Clearing House agreed to pay $18 million to 24 states and the District of Columbia to settle allegations it uses deceptive promotions. Wisconsin, which sued Publishers Clearing House last year, was not part of that settlement.
Publishers Clearing House attorney Jon Axelrod said the state's own witnesses would say they knew they had little chance of winning and didn't have to buy anything to enter the drawing.
He said people didn't think they were misled until Attorney General Jim Doyle sued. He called it a political move by Doyle, who plans to run for governor in 2002. State attorneys objected to the allegation.
The trial comes after months of sometimes contentious exchanges between the two sides. In September, Judge Richard Rehm banned inflammatory comments from attorneys on both sides after Doyle called the sweepstakes "burglars" and said there was a "special place in hell" for the company.