LANSING -- Domino's Pizza blasted Attorney General Mike Cox in an open letter to customers, apologizing for its unwitting role in a billboard contest it called "negative and ill-conceived.''
Cox on Sept. 23 announced a billboard design contest for kids to promote payment of child support. A $10 Domino's gift certificate was promised to the first 250 entries, with pizza for the winner's school and a $1,000 scholarship.
But the idea angered fathers' rights groups who said it encouraged the use of children as pawns between parents. Two national radio hosts encouraged a boycott of Domino's earlier this week.
On Thursday, Ann Arbor-based Domino's posted an apology on the company Web site, after receiving several dozen complaints.
"We don't believe it is appropriate to use children in the way they would be used in this contest,'' Tim McIntyre, Domino's vice president of corporate communications, wrote in an e-mail to Booth Newspapers.
McIntyre said the company "would have declined vigorously" had it been told that the pizza coupons would be used for the contest.
But Randall Thompson, attorney general spokesman said today, "Asking kids to use their creativity to encourage people to obey the law is appropriate and the right thing to do. We're talking about a felony statute here. We're not talking about the overwhelming majority of mothers and dads that do pay and have wonderful relationships with their children."
The contest will continue, Thompson said.
Domino's said in January it donated pizza coupons to Cox's PayKids Foundation, which uses corporate donations for a public campaign promoting payment of child support.
But the company said it was unaware how the coupons would be used.
"....we are angry about receiving the many complaints that associate our brand with a campaign that was so negative and ill-conceived,'' the letter stated.
The attorney general has made unpaid child support a major focus of his office, creating a new unit to prosecute nonpayment of support. He announced last month that his office has collected more than $6.7 million in overdue support.
John Palmisano, 52, a noncustodial father from Ann Arbor, said he was offended by Cox's contest. He said most parents pay their child support, and Cox is going after the wrong issue.
"There's a large group of dads who want to be a big part of children's lives and yet the courts will not allow us to be involved,'' he said.
Thompson said that the attorney general's effort is focused on parents who can pay but who don't.
Richar' Farr, a Dallas-based Internet radio host who focuses on parental rights, began prodding the issue last week after hearing from Michigan listeners about the contest. He said he's heard from more than 1,000 listeners, some as far away as Australia.
"This whole deadbeat issue has become deadbeat hysteria,'' he said in a phone interview. "Each child has a right to have a relationship with both of their parents, and children have a right not to be used as pawns.''
Nationally syndicated men's-issues radio show host Glenn Sacks also aired a program on the billboard contest Sunday. He encouraged listeners to protest, even listing Domino's CEO David Brandon's phone number on his Web site.
Meanwhile, Domino's said it doesn't want the controversy.
"We simply want to sell pizza ....'' the company letter stated.
For more information, go to www.paykids.com, www.dominos.com, www.krightsradio.com, www.glennsacks.com