Rubio’s Olympic Medal Bill Would Give Michael Phelps Hundreds Of Thousands Of Dollars In Tax Breaks

Rubio's tax plan would give Michael Phelps a tax break for eating Subway.

Americans for Tax Reform, the anti-tax group headed by activist Grover Norquist, caused a stir this week when it released a report detailing the supposed tax burden America’s Olympic athletes face on the prize money they receive for winning medals. The Olympians, ATR said, would owe “up to $9,000” in taxes on their medals and winnings, and that, the organization said, was a travesty — even though the money hardly differs from other prizes (like lottery winnings) that are taxed as normal income.

ATR’s analysis contained blatant falsehoods — Olympic medals are not subject to taxes, a fact confirmed both by the United States Olympic Committee and accountants who have handled Olympians’ taxes — but that didn’t stop anti-tax Republicans from leaping into action. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) proposed legislation that would exempt Olympic winnings from taxation, but in his haste, he created a loophole that would allow athletes with big endorsements to claim hundreds of thousands in tax breaks, as accountant K. Sean Packard writes at TaxTV’s blog:

Senator Rubio’s bill, if passed, would fully exempt “any prize or award won by the taxpayer in athletic competition in the Olympic Games.” Any agent worth his/her salt would ensure that most, if not all, endorsement contracts for an Olympian include hefty bonuses for medals. For Phelps, this would include bonuses from Subway, Hilton, Omega, Speedo, Visa, Proctor and Gamble and Under Armour, and at least three others. Lochte would receive bonuses from Sprint, Gatorage, Gillette, Nissan, Speedo, AT&T, Proctor and Gamble, Mutual of Omaha and Ralph Lauren. Assuming each of Phelps’ and Lochte’s endorsers match the USOC’s medal bonuses of $25,000, Phelps could receive $300,000 tax-free from the USOC and his eleven endorsers for each gold he wins (two as of this publication) and Lochte could receive $250,000 for each of his two golds. Lochte and Phelps also have two silvers each and Lochte a bronze and each will receive bonuses from the USOC and likely from endorsers for those.

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 Lochte huge tax breaks, all due to some faux outrage on the part of conservative tax activists.