John Oliver Gave Away $15 Million to Show Just How Shady the Debt-Buying Industry Is

Here’s how he managed to outdo Oprah.

According to the latest Last Week Tonight, Americans collectively owe more than $12 trillion in debt—a serious problem that has given way to a questionable industry of debt buyers that prey on vulnerable people hoping to relieve their crushing financial situations. Oftentimes, these debt collectors break the law and use practices that show little respect for their consumers. 

To demonstrate just how badly the industry needs additional government oversight, John Oliver created his own debt acquisition company to not only collect, but forgive about $14.9 million dollars in medical debt for roughly 9,000 people in Texas. The feat topped Oprah Winfrey’s former record of the largest one-time giveaway in television history. 


In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones: A special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of the huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.