Golden Globe gift bags are history after IRS stresses taxing issues

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LOS ANGELES (AP) – The Golden Globe gift basket is no more.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which presents the annual Golden Globe Awards, announced Wednesday that it had reached an agreement with the Internal Revenue Service to satisfy past tax obligations on the plush gift packages given to awards-show presenters.

The end result: No such swag will be handed out at this year’s show, to be held Monday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, said HFPA president Philip Berk.

“The academy set the example and we followed suit,” Berk told The Associated Press, referring to the film academy.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced in August that it had paid back taxes on its bountiful Oscar booty bags – typically packed with jewelry, electronics, spa packages and four-star getaways – and would no longer thank show presenters with swanky gifts. No alternative thank-you gifts are planned, Academy spokeswoman Leslie Unger said.

To prevent individual celebrities from receiving back-tax bills, the HFPA absorbed taxes for gifts given through 2005. Presenters who accepted gifts at the 2006 Golden Globes will get tax forms in the mail, Berk said.

“They will have to cough up that amount and declare it as income,” he said.

The IRS isn’t trying to put an end to celebrity gifts, said spokeswoman Beth Tucker.

“All we want to do is make sure the organizations and the recipients understand their tax responsibilities,” she said. “This is not new tax law.”

But if it’s a gift, why does the IRS call it income?

Intent, Tucker said: “They’re not being given out of affection or disinterested generosity. They’re being given in exchange for appearing at an event.”

Last year, Golden Globe presenters got gift boxes worth more than $20,000. Each package included a $2,000 gym membership, a $1,200 diamond pendant, an $865 Chopard watch and a $475 camera phone, plus handbags, MP3 players and a slew of gift certificates.

But Berk said presenters don’t come for the gift bags.

“It was a nice little something extra for them to look inside and maybe find one or two items they like,” he said. “I don’t think anybody really takes it as an incentive.”

Besides, opportunities still abound for stars to collect swag, especially during awards season. Each big show usually has a “gifting suite” associated with it – a room stocked with designer purses, clothing, jewelry, sunglasses and other freebies for celebs to snap up. Suites also have staff beauty pros on hand to primp, powder or pedicure famous folks, free of charge, of course.

Gift-suite swag is taxable too, Tucker said, and another focus of the IRS outreach, which began over the summer.

Vendors should issue 1099 tax forms to each person who collects free products from the suite, she said, adding that “at the end of the day, the recipient is responsible for reporting it as income.”

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