Our Award for Olympic Gold Meddle

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United States' men's 4 X 100-meter medley relay team: Brendan Hansen, Matthew Grevers, Michael Phelps and Nathan Adrian, hold their gold medals at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. August 2012. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
United States' men's 4 X 100-meter medley relay team from left, Brendan Hansen, Matthew Grevers, Michael Phelps and Nathan Adrian hold their gold medals at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

As noted earlier, while the Olympics are supposed to be a celebration of goodwill and universal understanding, this year’s Games in London have drawn American politicians as bees to honey, all maneuvering for position in the hope that the allure of Olympic gold can be used to partisan advantage.

But the prize for the furthest stretch jointly goes to conservative activist Grover Norquist and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

On July 31, Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform breathlessly announced, “U.S. Olympic medal winners will owe up to $9,000 to the IRS… While 529 hardworking athletes proudly represent the United States in the 2012 Olympics, any medals and money they earn wearing red, white and blue will be taxed by the IRS…

“It gets even worse. Not only do our Olympic athletes have to pay taxes on their medals and prizes – chances are their competitors on the field will face no such taxation when they get home. Because the U.S. is virtually the only developed nation that taxes ‘worldwide’ income earned overseas by its taxpayers, our Olympic athletes face a competitive disadvantage that has nothing to do with sports.”

The very next day, ABC News reported, Senator Rubio introduced a bill “that would exempt U.S. Olympic medal winners from paying federal taxes on their medals and prize money earned in the Olympics.”

“’Our tax code is a complicated and burdensome mess that too often punishes success, and the tax imposed on Olympic medal winners is a classic example of this madness,’ Rubio said in a paper statement today announcing his legislation. ‘Athletes representing our nation overseas in the Olympics shouldn’t have to worry about an extra tax bill waiting for them back home… We can all agree that these Olympians who dedicate their lives to athletic excellence should not be punished when they achieve it.’”

Problem is, according to Politico’s Alex Seitz-Wald, who contacted the United States Olympic Committee, “the medals aren’t subject to taxes.” Further, the Tampa Bay Times‘s Politifact reports, “the experts we spoke to suggested that a $9,000 tax payment was unrealistically high. For most athletes, the payment will be less, and possibly quite a bit less…”

“Americans for Tax Reform is correct that gold medalists’ winnings are taxable, and it provides some leeway by saying that U.S. winners could be taxed up to $9,000…

“Any accountant worth their salt should be able to get the rate of tax on medal winnings much below $9,000, and maybe even to zero. We rate the statement Mostly False.”

What’s more, according to a headline at the website ThinkProgress,”Rubio’s Olympic Medal Bill Would Give Michael Phelps Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars in Tax Breaks.” A loophole in the Rubio legislation would allow sports agents to tie Senator Rubio’s exemption to big cash bonuses:

“In effect, a decent lawyer or tax accountant would be able to craft endorsement deals in a way that make large sums of compensation seem tied to Olympic performance, giving athletes like Phelps and [Ryan] Lochte huge tax breaks, all due to some faux outrage on the part of conservative tax activists.”

Meanwhile, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports that while the deluge of Olympics coverage is a boon for fans, “digital media company Captivate Network estimates that Olympics-related distractions will result in a $1.38 billion loss in productivity for U.S. companies, up from its previous estimate of $650 million, due to unexpectedly high viewership.

“The biggest distractions: Captivate says among the 27 percent of surveyed people who say they watch Olympic events during the workday, swimming is the most viewed sport, followed by gymnastics, beach volleyball, and diving. Captivate surveyed 355 people in the U.S. on Aug. 1. (All-day data from NBC show that on its cable networks, including Bravo, archery is now the most watched sport, possibly due to a boost in interest from The Hunger Games as well as popular American archer Brady Ellison. Jeremy Renner’s Nighthawk, the non-superpowered archer character he plays in The Avengers, may also have had an impact, but it’s unlikely.)”

By the way, if the boss says stop watching wall-to-wall Olympics coverage — and speaking of Grover Nordquist — drop your quiver and bow and use your coffee break to check out Stephen Colbert’s latest on the conservative lobbyist’s mystical powers.

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  • jsar

    When did paying your fair share of taxes become so unpatriotic? Moreover, the idea that taxing the successful is somehow shameful is a canard. We can’t very well tax the financially “unsuccessful” and expect to have roads, fire fighters, cops, a military or any of the other “wasteful” government program.

  • Jean Lewandowski

    This is one more example of how the “Scoring points at all cost” mentality works. Right-wing outrage over taxes trumps all other considerations, and the truth is the first to go.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bert.johnson.980 Bert Johnson

    The medal payout system; $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver, $10,000 for bronze, was instituted by the U.S.O.C. for U.S. athletes. What other nations do for their athletes, if anything at all, is completely up to those other nations. Of course the athletes should be taxed on their prizes. It is income earned as a result of hard work, just like most of us who toil to make a living. And, chances are, most trained in facilities built by public funds.

  • LisaMary123

    Olympic athletes are no longer amateurs. Many are professionals and should pay their fair share of tax on what they earn as professionals, like the rest of us do. Simple as that. Look at the basketball team. Many of them earn millions and millions of dollars.

  • Lou Williams

    Winship cites the U.S. Olympic Committee (via Alex Zeitz-Wald) to the effect that the medals aren’t taxable. Then, he quotes Politifact to say they are taxable but that $9,00 is an inflated estimate. Which is it?

  • http://www.facebook.com/frank.e.warren Frank E. Warren

    COPT of a letter I sent to Senator Rubio:
    Olympic medal tax cut.
    Dear Senator Marco Rubio; (R-Florida)
    I think it is fine to support our “olympic” (at one time amateur) athletes by paying for outstanding training facilities and other necessities however, since they now are all professional, allow them to do the professional thing, and pay taxes on their EARNED INCOME!
    Many of my colleagues and I represent the United States of America in foreign countries – on high profile stages – as “good will ambassadors.” Our work may not be The Olympics yet, the impact we have on audiences leaves an equally lasting impression.
    Just because olympians are on a larger, more commercial stand, it doesn’t necessarily mean their impact on foreign relations is any greater. And, by giving them a tax break on their income because of the olympics, is like giving a multi-millionaire a break on their taxes JUST because they are richer than everyone else. … Is that fair?
    (Any argument you wish to support your idea, I’ll beat it.)
    Sincerely, Frank E. Warren

  • Lyn

    Why is this just being shared with Moyers fans who already suspected the honesty of this ploy? This is the kind of information that needs to be in the news targeted to the general public. I hate when it is referred to the ‘lame stream media’ but they have backed off confronting even outrageous statements presented as facts, let alone bias statements that don’t include all the information.

  • http://www.facebook.com/frank.elliott.562 Frank Elliott

    I have tried to share vital info found via the Moyers journalism-only to discover that those who have only one point of view automatically reject anything from Moyers. This is not a “liberal media” culture we live in. It may be more like what the Buddhists term “The Ten Thousand Things”…meaning confounding distractions, One comes away from , say, G. Stephanopoulis more confused than edified and illuminated.
    Sadly, the “other” source of info for many millions, is at church, where not only is there nothing in the way of clarity, but it seems church leaders are ‘just fine’ with churches being extensions of the Republican Party…here is largely, where “liberal” is a concept maintained as a word used by the devil’s minions…and ‘conservative’ right up there with “cleanliness next to godliness”. Thus the church allows its members to be prejudiced…against anyone who has compassion for the poor…meaning, the church is comfortable cultivating ignorance, and to be, essentially, opposed to the will of God – whose heart is with the poor.
    His “Word” is positively dripping with negative terms for wealth, fame, and earthly glory. Astonishingly, the church permits this ignorance to flourish-sending its congregants out weekly with their heads screwed on backwards. What you hear coming from self righteous conservatives of this genre, are scurulous epithets against some one or more minorities…and a WHOLE LOT of talk about money, money, and more money…as in “spending”, “taxing”, “squandering”, and “So what’s wrong with being a person who makes $100 billion /yr?” ( they actually have asked me ! ) ( Verizon-$110B/yr )…what’s wrong with that picture … has to do with those staggering figures tsunami-ing into to such deep pockets…there should be no shortage of food at food banks…there should be no 25,000 children a day dying in hunger and malnutrition. There should be no endless stream of natural disasters, fires, floods, thousands of tornados/year, and maybe even a volcano or two, thrown in soon…but there is and there will continue to be, until those wrong headed conservatives actually tithe, and actually align their hearts to the less fortunate…and stop beating their “tax drum”..oh and one more thing: The bible says this very plainly : “Stop oppressing the foreigner among you”…know any foreigners abused, and persecuted?…I think think of at least three ethnic groups, and a couple of sexual orientations, currently the ‘despised minority group’ led by so called ( phony ) christians ( little “c” )

  • DianeTC

    Well said, Frank. If only Truth were given a wider forum.