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To the losers go ... $75,000 in taxable swag

Stars and wannabes will owe taxes on lavish gifts handed out in Oscar VIP suites.

By Kay Bell Feb 28, 2011 1:27PM

The Academy Awards were presented Sunday night. You know what that means.


Swag bags!


These bags -- sometimes actual totes, other times just a general reference to the loot -- represent a tradition of giving goodies to people who don't really need it. The giving of gifts to awards show presenters and other participants began in the 1970s and over the years became an increasingly lavish tradition.


In 2006 the tax man got involved. That year, the IRS decreed that the goody bags were not actual gifts, but rather compensation and that the recipients would owe taxes on the value of the items handed out at awards shows.


Following the IRS inquiry, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the organization that hands out Oscars, short-circuited the tax to-do by reaching an agreement with the IRS and picking up the tax tab for swag recipients' prior gifts.


The Academy then promptly canceled its official gift bags. But that hasn't stopped the practice.


Unofficial goodies abound


Plenty of unsanctioned swag is still available in connection with this year's Oscars ceremony. Public relations firms typically set up gifting suites, where celebrities can go and pick up the set before high-profile events.


Most A-list stars aren't going to be so crass as to go pick up freebies. But plenty of other Tinseltown types do stop get and get some goodies, usually in exchange for a brief video interview. And the potential buzz from linking a celebrity to a product outweighs the losses or PR gaucheness.


Lots of loot for losers


The swag bag getting the most attention this year was put together by Distinctive Assets, a Los Angeles company that specializes in "celebrity placement, product introduction and branding opportunities."


The firm is planning to send "consolation bags" on Monday morning to actors who don't pick up an Oscar. And that swag bag is the basis of this week's By the Numbers figure. The items that are designed to assuage some of the pain of losing are valued at $75,000.


Distinctive Assets is careful to point out that its "Everybody Wins at the Oscars" nominee gift bag delivery, now in its ninth year, is in no way affiliated with any official Oscar Bag or AMPAS.


So what will the losers in the best director and best actor and actress categories -- sorry sound editors, costumers and set designers; the bags are only going to the also-rans in those three major categories -- receive that's worth 75 grand?


The big-ticket items are a $5,000 all-inclusive week-long fitness retreat from Live In Fitness Enterprise, a $12,000 Belize getaway to the private island of Cayo Espanto and a $16,000 all-inclusive getaway courtesy of Premier Tours to Huvafen Fushi luxury resort in the Maldives.


Some other notable swag bag goodies, notable because the items strike me as goofy, as noted by the parenthetical comments, include:

  • Body Wrap Sheer Iridescent fashion-forward shapewear (because you can never be too thin in Hollywood).
  • blu Cigs special edition electronic cigarettes (apparently it's cool again to smoke, but not cool to die of lung cancer).
  • Chocolatines' Chocouture Jewelry Box (a chocolate jewelry box or a jewelry box for chocolates?).
  • The Kim Kardashian Signature Watch Collection by The Brissmor Company (yet another product with the KK name attached).
  • Huntley Drive Fitness personal training packages (see the shapewear notation).
  • MILLIANNA python cuffs (Does anyone know what this is? handcuffs? snakeskin cuffs for sleeves?).
  • Slimware portion-control plates (see the shapewear notation again).
  • Positive Only Celebrity News (because Hollywood stars need a break from the reports on their not-so-positive actions).
  • XTI Active-Shield 360 and Nano Facemask (yet another product stumper).
  • JulAir odor eliminator (insert your own snarky comment here).
  • Virgin Galactic limited edition sub-orbital space craft scale model (for the 8-year-old boy in every actor).
  • Madame Paulette Professional Stain Removal Kit (for the post-Oscars party mess, I presume)
  • Nozin nasal products (does it include pre- and post-rhinoplasty products?).
  • Barradoro VIP Luxury Lifestyle Experience (since no price was given, does that mean it's value will vary depending on how luxurious of a lifestyle is chosen?).

The consolation swag also contains a "notebook and Persian medallion from Shokoufeh Malekkiani benefiting the United Nations World Food Programme in Iran." Such tie-ins to nonprofit groups are the route that some other swag bag folks are taking.


Giving away the goodies


The charitable swag approach was popularized by, who else, George Clooney, who auctioned his 2006 Oscar gift bag and donated the $45,100 it netted to the United

Way's hurricane relief fund.


GBK, a luxury lifestyle gifting and special events company in Los Angeles, this year set up a gifting lounge at the W Hotel in Hollywood to which it has invited celebrities and VIPs to "enjoy a luxurious environment with gifts, refreshments and charity fundraising."


Academy Award nominees and presenters at the GBK lounge received goods and services ranging from exotic travel destinations to luxury goods and products.


In addition, representatives of several charities will receive a gift bag valued at more than $30,000 that they can auction off for their causes.


Tax eye on the star prizes


Thanks to the IRS' prior attention on the at-event swag bags, the gift lounge/suite concept, both for quasi-charitable causes and for simply currying favor with Hollywood elite, has gained in popularity in recent years.


And even though IRS VIPs probably aren't invited to any the suites, I suspect the tax agency is looking long and hard at this new way Hollywood stars are getting "gifts" at awards time.  


More from Don't Mess with Taxes and MSN Money:


Feb 28, 2011 4:06PM




i think these "stars" that take these gifts and keep all of it to them selves are selfish at best. keeping a watch or hat or something isnt too bad.

there are a ton of charities that could use the money from auctioning off the gifs in thoes bags.

i wouldnt hand the bag to a charity and let them have at it, i am sure a watch or a trip would come up missing if that happened.

find a reputable auction house and let them auction it off and donate the money.

Feb 28, 2011 5:46PM

C'mon you lefties ! This is your big chance to demonize someone that has more than you do ! Let's hear how "evil" these celebs are. They're just like  greedy CEO's lining their pockets with other peoples money. Hello ! Where are you lefties !! ??? 


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