The Swag Loophole, Filled

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Okay, so the Golden Globes may be happening tonight, and the ladies may be dripping in diamonds, but they won’t be marching home with swag, not like yesteryear. Turns out that freebie goodies doled out to presenters at awards’ shows (last year’s Globes’ offerings were worth $40,000) caught the attention of the IRS, and the Globes, Oscar and Emmy are all having to pay up.

Last week the Globes’ Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced that they would forego the basket distro altogether (instead giving each attendee $600 worth of gifts). The announcement came soon after they agreed to pay all back taxes on the gifts handed out until 2005 and provide celebrities who received goodies in 2006 with the appropriate income tax forms (that’s gonna be an awkward handoff). No word on how much loot the IRS collected from the Globes, but it was likely enough to outfit Scarlett underwear to earrings in Harry Winston.

The swag loophole fails thusly: vendors write off the items as the cost of doing business, fine, but A-listers technically receive the “gifts” in exchange for appearing at an event—thus they’re taxable income.

In August the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ settled up with the IRS for past swag ($1.2 million for 2005 alone) and said it would no longer shower Oscar presenters with loot that ranges from perfume to cruise tickets to Antarctica. And last year’s Emmy presenters got a letter along with their $33,000 swag bags explaining the ensuing tax obligations.

Last summer Clara pointed out the swag-bag trend in her coverage of the perks of privilege (along with a whole lot of other ways the rich stay that way). One for the irony stack:

For performing in the Live 8 concerts to “make poverty history,” musicians each got gift bags worth up to $12,000.

Read the rest of Clara’s picks here, with sources here.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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