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And now, the bad news

By Keith D. Cummings
web posted October 4, 2004

Oprah Winfrey, the reigning queen of daytime talk, opened her new season with an exciting surprise for all of her invited studio audience. In cooperation with Pontiac, Oprah presented every member of her studio audience with a new Pontiac G6, a four-door sports sedan that Pontiac introduced in the 2005 model year.

Winfrey poses atop a Pontiac G6 auto outside her studios in Chicago on September 9
Winfrey poses atop a Pontiac G6 auto outside her studios in Chicago on September 9

The deal was a gamble for Pontiac. Giving Harpo Productions, Oprah's production company 276 cars, with an estimated value of $7.8 million took a chunk out of the company's advertising budget. The gamble seemed to pay off. With viewers fast-forwarding or flipping channels during commercials, Pontiac was able to make itself and its new car an integral part of the show. Immediately after the program, the hits on Pontiac's website shot up to over 30,000 an hour.

CNN, Fox News, the three networks and even VH1 featured the giveaway over the course of the following week, making the September 13 premier of the Oprah Winfrey Show's nineteenth season one of the most talked about in a long time.

Winfrey and her staff were careful to select people for the audience who were in desperate need of a new car. Friends or family of the audience members had written Winfrey, prompting the invitation to appear on the show. One recipient reportedly drove a car that "looks like she got caught in a gunfight," according to CNN. Another couple drove two cars with more than 400,000 miles on them.

The networks showed the laughing, screaming and crying women as Oprah informed them that, "Everybody gets a car!" What no one seems to be talking about now is that these people, people who couldn't afford to buy a new car, are being slapped with a tax bill from good old Uncle Sam for as much as $7,000.

Harpo Productions is justifiably stymied by the problem. They have informed the winners that they can pay the tax, sell the car to cover the tax or forfeit the car entirely. There isn't much more Harpo can do, since the US tax code designates these cars as income. The code is designed to discourage private individuals from providing this kind of assistance to those in need.

The people in the audience of the Winfrey show weren't aware that they were going to be getting a car when they arrived. These weren't contestants on Jeopardy! or The Price is Right. These were people with a specific need that two private corporations tried to help. Rather than allow the gifts to be given without interference, US tax code penalizes the recipients, in the obvious hope that people will reject private assistance for public aid. This is the key to retaining government power and control.

Extreme Makeover Home Edition uses a loophole in the tax law; the fact that any individual renting their residence for less than 15 days a year need not claim the rent as taxable income. Extreme Makeover signs a lease with the cash-strapped recipients of the household remodel for 10 days, claiming the upgrades to the house are payments in lieu of rent. Even though the show only fixes up the homes of needy and worthy families, we can be sure the Congress will close Section 280A(g) as soon as they can.

Many people in America are too lazy and cheap to spend their own time and money helping the less fortunate. They've abdicated their responsibility to the government, and now the government is making it increasingly difficult for those of us wanting to put our own money into helping others. Instead, elected officials use our own compassion against us, making our efforts to help others harmful to the very people to whom we offer aid.

The Republicans and Democrats are both accomplices in this sham. With the assistance of public employee unions, the Congress is making it harder and harder for one American to help another. The whole goal is to keep aid coming from the government. This ensures that people in need are indoctrinated into a "Government is the Solution" mindset. It also ensures that assistance will be harder to find, more expensive to provide and more frustrating for those of us who really do care.

Keith D. Cummings is the author of Opening Bell, a political / financial thriller. His website is http://www.keith-cummings.com.

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