July 18, 2018

It seemed like a good idea a the time

What Are Your Taxes Buying Hollywood?

The former head of the Iowa Film Office was charged this week with “unfelonious misconduct in office” for his role in a scandal in which filmmakers bought themselves everything from featherbeds to Benzes with money advanced by the taxpayers of Iowa.

The Hawkeye State fell big time for the film credit fad that swept the country in recent years. Iowa had two 25% tax credits, one for filmmakers and one for investors. As interpreted by Mr. Wheeler (but not the Attorney General), the credits together could add up to 50% of film costs incurred in state, making it perhaps the most generous such giveaway in the country.

Better yet, the credits are transferable, so filmmakers can sell them at a discount to raise money. The program had no caps, meaning that Iowa could give away money as fast as Hollywood could spend it.


The entire program was managed by Mr. Wheeler, almost by himself. And did he ever manage it. According to the Iowa Attorney General:

Defendant Wheeler permitted filmmakers… to utilize “payments in kind” including “services in kind” in support of claimed expenditures for tax credits. Under defendant Wheeler’s direction, Iowa’s film program became one of the few, if not the only, state film incentive program in the nation to allow credit for “services in kind.”…Examples included “sponsorship agreements” in which intangible assets (such as reciprocal web links, product placement and marketing agreements) were traded with no money changing hands. These non-cash “expenditures” sometimes constituted the majority of the filmmakers entire alleged budget.

For a brief glitzy moment, Iowa was overrun with film crews and starlets helping themselves to a bountiful harvest.

The party ended last fall with revelations that Iowans helped buy a Mercedes and a Land Rover for a producer via film credits. Mr. Wheeler lost his job, and now he stands charged with a “serious misdemeanor.” Two filmmakers are charged with felony theft for inflating their expenses while claiming credits.

But if Mr. Wheeler is criminally inept, what about the bosses that left him alone and unsupervised to give away over $30 million so far? And what about the 147 legislators — out of 150 — who thought it would be a good idea to give Hollywood a blank check? And you thought “Music Man” was fiction.

But lest you think too badly about the rubes in Iowa, forty-four states are giving taxpayer money to Hollywood. Chances are that your legislator is taking money from you and giving it to those nice Hollywood people. Remember that next time your legislator says you aren’t paying enough taxes.