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“Many Will Enter, No One Will Win” The MyPillow® Guy’s Contest

A Lesson in Contest Rule Interpretation

The phrase “Many Will Enter, Few Will Win” is often used to comply with CARU’s guidelines for contests directed to children. It’s meant to make it easier for kids to understand that they really don’t have a good shot at winning a prize. Based on the new AAA Decision, Mike Lindell (the ubiquitous MyPillow® guy) should have included an even more emphatic warning for his “Prove Mike Wrong Challenge.” No matter what you might feel about his politics, his case illustrates why precision in Official Rule drafting is critical.

On April 19, 2023, a three-person panel from the American Arbitration Association issued a “Reasoned Decision and Final Award awarding $5MM to that computer data guy who was able to prove Mike Lindell wrong.

The “Prove Mike Wrong Contest” was announced at a “Cyber Symposium” Pillow Guy held in August 2021 whose purpose was to provide the data he had to purportedly prove China’s interference in the November 2020 election. At this symposium, Pillows announced the “Prove Mike Wrong Contest” that had “one goal” which was “to find proof that [his] cyber data is not valid data from the November Election.” He then proclaimed: “For the people who find the evidence, 5 million is their reward.” This wasn’t just an idle boast, Mr. P. actually had Official Rules for this Contest.

While Pillow Man may have wanted to give 5 million bucks to someone who could debunk his claim that China interfered with the 2020 election, his announcement and the Contest Rules said otherwise.

The AAA Panel read the Contest Rules and held that, according to the Rules, a participant had to prove that Lindell’s data was not related to the November 2020 Election. There was nothing in the Contest Rules that required a participant to actually prove (or even address) the issue of China’s purported interference with the election. As recited in the Decision, the Official Rules required a potential winner to demonstrate that Lindell’s data “unequivocally does NOT reflect information related to the November 2020 election.” Or stated another way in the Contest Rules, an entrant had to provide a written submission that “proves to a 100% degree of certainty that the data shown at the Symposium is not reflective of November 2020 election data.” (Decision, p. 6.)

Robert Zeidman, who holds a masters in electrical engineering and a degree in physics and worked for over 45 years in software development, took up the challenge and presented a 15-page report, with exhibits, explaining his conclusion that “the data Lindell provides, and represents reflects information from the November 2020 election, unequivocally does not contain packet data of any kind and do not contain any information related to the November 2020 election.” (Decision, p. 9.)

The three Contest judges (which did not include That Pillow Guy) “gave serious consideration to Mr. Zeidman’s report, but concluded that [he] had not won the Contest.”

Zeidman asserted a claim for the prize in arbitration, and the Panel held that he should have been awarded the $5 million prize.

Interpretation of the Contest Rules

The AAA Panel first recognized that Contest Rules form a binding agreement between the sponsor and the entrants. The Contest Rules had typical language that “any alleged or actual ambiguity, discrepancy or inconsistency” in the Rules “will be resolved in Lindell’s sole discretion.” But the Panel decided that the Rules were not ambiguous and that the Rules were to be construed “with due regard for the intent of the parties as expressed in the language of [the Rules] referring to information ‘from the election’ and ‘election data’.”

The AAA Panel also noted that if there were any ambiguities, Lindell could only take advantage of the favorable ambiguous language provision in the Rules to extent his discretion is exercised in good faith and was reasonable.

The AAA Panel determined that the data relied upon by Lindell was not “from the election” or “election data” as those terms were used in the Rules. The Panel remarked that Lindell’s data contained no time stamps, recording of votes, names of voters or other evidence of election data and that some of the data was “unreadable” and “perhaps just gibberish.” (Decision, at p. 18.)

Accordingly, the AAA Panel concluded that Zeidman had performed under the contract (the Contest Rules) and Mr. Pillow breached this contract by failing to pay Zeidman the $5 million prize.

Lessons to be learned:

  • Mean what you say and say what you mean in Official Rules – If you want someone to prove that China interfered with the November 2020 election then say just that.
  • Make sure your ads are consistent with your Official Rules – Once you get the Rules right, make sure your ads don’t tell people to do something different to win the prize.
  • Unambiguous Rule language will be interpreted according to its plain meaning – Clauses that give a Sponsor “absolute discretion” may not be enough to override the plain meaning of the words used.
  • Ambiguous Rule language does not give a Sponsor carte blanche interpretation power – Even if a Sponsor has “sole discretion” to interpret ambiguous Rule language, the Sponsor’s exercise of this discretion must be reasonable and in good faith.

Sleep well, readers.

Topics: Contest