06/09/2011 11:26 am ET | Updated Aug 09, 2011

Is Palin's Bus Tour Guilty of Trademark Infringement?


Sarah Palin's political action committee, SarahPAC, is using a trademarked name for her current bus tour, opening her up to major liabilities that could potentially cause her to lose her bus.

On May 26, SarahPAC treasurer Tim Crawford announced that Palin would be taking a bus tour up the East Coast. The tour's name, One Nation, is an evocation of a somewhat infamous line from the Pledge of Allegiance: "One nation, under God." The tour began at the Rolling Thunder Rally in Washington, D.C., bounced around between various historic American sites up the East Coast, and wound up in the presidential primary heartland of New Hampshire. Since then more stops have been announced, including South Carolina and Iowa.

From day one, the tour was on shaky ground. Palin's Rolling Thunder appearance was criticized by many, including two of the rally's three organizers, who felt she was trying to politicize what is a non-partisan event, the only purpose of which is to support American troops and specifically to raise awareness for soldiers missing in action. Organizer Ted Shpak very explicitly told NBC's Andrea Mitchell that Palin was not invited to the rally. "She's not invited to speak," said Shpak, "and we're not endorsing her. But we can't stop her from coming to ride."

Shpak described Palin's presence as a big distraction.

"Maybe she's coming because she knows we have half a million people in town, and she's thinking she can start her ... you know, it's just that the way it came out, she's saying we endorsed her. We're not endorsing anybody, and she's not speaking on our stage during our program."

Palin ended up riding to the rally on a motorcycle, with no tour bus in sight. But even before this awkward start, One Nation was in trouble -- from the very moment it was first conceived.

In 2009, Kelly Eustis had a very acrimonious split from his employer, Our Country Deserves Better PAC, better known as the group behind the Tea Party Express. Though his blog says he left due to "creative and personal differences," Eustis referred to TPE's leaders as "corrupt, disgusting people" in a private email circulated amongst Tea Party leaders on March 3, 2010. Then, in April, he revealed to Politico that his former colleagues saw the Tea Party as simply a brand name. "We stole the brand name to make money." He said OCDB was "basically hijacking the movement for their personal and business gains without regard for real tea party activists."

After leaving OCDB, Eustis went on to form his own PAC - One Nation. He applied for trademark protection for the One Nation name, protection which became effective in August 2010. Last week he made this known to SarahPAC. Tim Crawford, SarahPAC treasurer, responded abrasively. According to Eustis, "They are pissed for me even bringing up that they're using our name! 'It's about the Constitution,' he said, and said they would defend their PAC publicly if needed." At time of publication, Crawford had yet to respond to an email request for comment.

"I view this whole thing as David vs. Goliath," said Eustis. "SarahPAC believes they can get away with walking all over other groups, even those in the conservative movement, simply because they can."

In October of 2010, the NAACP, Sierra Club, AFL-CIO and La Raza organized a march on Washington D.C., a sort of anti-Tea Party gesture. They dubbed it One Nation Working Together, or just 'One Nation' for short. At the time, Eustis had his lawyer, Dan Backer, send them a cease-and-desist letter [PDF] in regards to using the One Nation name. The letter is dated August 10, 2010 -- one day after One Nation PAC was granted trademark protection.

In the letter, Backer wrote,

"Your actions constitute trademark infringement and unfair competition under both state and federal law, including the Lanham Act (15 U.S.C. §§ 1051-1127). Remedies for such infringement can include payment of actual and treble damages, recovery of profits, reimbursement of attorney's fees, and may also include injunctions against your further use of the Infringing Trademark and the seizure of infringing materials."

Infringing materials? You mean, materials with "One Nation" on them?

At the moment, Eustis's lawyers and SarahPAC's are engaged. But by the time all is said and done, it's entirely possible that one Kelly Eustis will be the proud new owner of a full-size, luxury tour bus, preloaded with his PAC's name emblazoned on the side, in letters four feet high.