Occasionally, a misdirected press release finds its way to me. It happened more than once over the past week, as companies sent out word on all manner of things even vaguely related to this past weekend's Academy Awards.

Suddenly, it became very easy to found out everything from who served as the o fficial airline partner to what designer a starlet was wearing to what brand of vacuum was used to steam the red carpet.

One of the more relevant releases is routinely sent out by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the firm that's served as the ceremony's auditor for 72 years. Including the nomination process along with the final balloting process, it takes PwC's ballot team approximately 1,700 hours over the course of 10 days, to count and verify all the votes by hand.

It's two PwC partners who annually sequester themselves with the final ballots for the three days that it takes to open and count them all. The men then personally deliver the sealed envelopes with the winners' names under police escort to the Oscar ceremony.

But of all the announcements in recent weeks, I most enjoyed being treated to the spectacle of the Internal Revenue Service getting in on the game late last week, with a dispatch mentioning celebrity goodie bags and some awfully punny quotes from Commissioner Mark W. Everson.

Featuring an array of beauty products, hotel rooms, jewelry and gadgets, the main guideline for the gift bags are pretty clearcut, no individual gift can be valued for less than $500, though not all products make the cut for inclusion. According to reports, the value of this year's bag topped $100,000.

The most expensive item in the bag was a $25,000 luxury package from the exclusive Halekulani Hotel on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. The least expensive item in the gift bag was $600 in coffee products, including a Krups XP4050 Premium Pump espresso machine and products from the Illy coffee company.

Everson's statement, wishing all of the nominees the best of luck prior to the ceremony (which I'm sure they appreciated), reminded celebrities that the goodie bags qualified as taxable income and must be reported on tax returns. In his statement, he noted that movie stars face the same tax obligations as ordinary Americans.

The statement could have stopped there, but it didn't. I love imagining hearing the country's no-nonsense tax agent utter these lines:

  • "We want to make sure the stars 'walk the line' when it comes to these goodie bags."
  • "This has become big business for companies promoting their products. These things aren't given without pride and prejudice."
  • "There is a tax implication... .We just want to make sure no one crashes into the tax code."

What, no "Capote" puns? And I think just about everyone but Everson made at least one "Brokeback Mountain" joke sometime between the end of the 2005 tax year and the start of 2006's. Ah, well. There's always next year.And just for the record, a gift bag worth $100,000 would result in about $45,000 in federal and state taxes for a California resident in the top tax brackets. A bitter pill for the average taxpayer to swallow, sure. But like they say in Oscar-winning original songs, "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp."

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