The Oscars $100k Swag Bags Come with Real Tax Concerns

Ahead of Sunday evening’s Academy Awards, the top Oscars nominees – regardless of whether they ultimately take home an Academy Award or not – are on the receiving end of a lavish gift bag. The bag itself – which comes from Distinctive Assets, a Los Angeles-based marketing company – contains 56 items, including a seven-day Hawaiian vacation at Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu in Hawaii; a stay at the Avaton Luxury Villas resort in Halkidiki, Greece; and a 12-night Tanzania trip for two which has an estimated value of $40,000, and is valued at over $100,000 (down from 2016’s $230,000 bag).

The Distinctive Assets-distributed bag, for which participating companies donate all the items and pay a promotional fee of at least $4,000 to have their products included, is not affiliated with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Academy officially stopped giving out gifts in 2005, after facing heightened scrutiny from the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”). The IRS reported in August 2006 that it had initiated an investigation into the Academy’s gifting practices and ultimately reached an agreement with the Academy to resolve "outstanding tax responsibilities" on the Academy Awards gift baskets that has been given out through 2005.

Neither the IRS nor the Academy would comment on the details of their agreement. However, it was revealed that the agreement would shield any individual who received an Oscars gift basket through 2005 from liability for failure to pay taxes on the gifts.

However, 13 years later, the bags, which are free for the Oscars nominees, still give rise to some serious tax concerns. According to tax attorney Robert W. Wood, in much the same way as actors and actresses have to report any income they receive in exchange for wearing certain designers’ wares on the industry’s biggest night and the events leading up to it, “celebs have to report [the value of the gift bag] as income, and the tax bill can be considerable,”

“There's little doubt that designers paying the fees should issue the stars an IRS Form 1099 to report the fee [they receive in exchange for wearing a garment or accessory],” according to Wood, and the same goes for Oscars gift bags, too.

As for whether the A-listers that accept the bags (some turn them down) are actively reporting the value of the gifts is another matter entirely.