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Winners of meet-the-candidate contests face tax costs

Want to spend some up-close and person time with a potential presidential nominee?

It's not exactly the type of sweepstakes that most Americans want to enter, but some folks are entering contests in which they can win face-to-face time with the next potential U.S. president.

National Journal reports that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican nominee wannabe counterparts Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson have all gotten into this additional type of political contest.

Meet Hillary Clinton contest plugged on her  Facebook page

And just like the more popular nonpolitical games of chance (you do have your ticket for tonight's Mega Millions $214 million jackpot, right?), there is a tax price to be paid.

Free isn't necessarily tax-free: The fine print for the all-expense paid excursions note that the meet-the-candidate trips aren't completely free.

True, you won't pay from your own pocket for the flights, hotel stay, chauffeur or meal with a future president. But the value of those things, like all prizes, is considered taxable by the Internal Revenue Service.

The winners can't simply ignore the potential tax bill. The political contest organizers should send them, and the IRS, 1099 forms stating the value of the prize.

Tax price is a bargain: The political magazine notes that many of the political contests are unaware they'll owe Uncle Sam at tax-filing time. But that's OK with some of them.

One Wisconsin couple to whom the National Journal spoke said that their estimated tax bill of around $570 is a bargain for the almost $3,000 for lunch they shared with Jeb Bush last month at a Miami Beach burger joint.

The three grand covered not just the meal, but also two airline tickets, a night in a Miami hotel, ground transportation, and tickets to a Miami Marlins MLB baseball game.

More than 12,000 people entered the Bush lunch contest, according to the magazine. Other meet-the-candidate events in the works are:

  • a raffle for a lunch with Carson in Dallas, a $2,275 tax value;
  • a chance to celebrate Rubio's birthday with him in Las Vegas, worth an estimated $1,500; and
  • an opportunity to meet Clinton plugged on her campaign's Facebook, no location specified, but at a value of $2,000.

Avoiding the tax: Of course, you could avoid the taxes by refusing the prize. But if you're going to do that, why enter in the first place?

And you don't have to worry about any taxes in connection with the time spent with the candidate.

"The IRS takes the position that the actual face time with the person is of no value," Marcus Owens, an attorney at Loeb and Loeb in Washington, D.C., and a former IRS lawyer, told the National Journal.

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