The Motley Fool Returns Bailout Funds

You [expletive] ... I just realized, it's April 1. Well done (bowing and bowing again). You got me!
-- Reader email, April 1, 2009

And ... full disclosure: Yesterday's takeover of Fool.com, wherein Fool co-founders Tom and David Gardner explained the loophole that allowed the Fool to acquire $25 million in funds, was a farce.

That's right, The Motley Fool's surprising government windfall was our annual April Fool's joke, and the bulk of you caught on pretty quickly. But we hope it was still fun.

Whores? Really?
That was what one reader called us when he learned of our success posing as a financial services and auto company to obtain the $25 million. We also received our usual parade of folks who threatened cancellations and swore off Fool.com forever. One person wanted us to reimburse him for the keyboard he ruined by spitting Cherry Coke Zero on it while laughing.

He was kidding. Others were not as playful:

  • This is what is wrong with this country. I hope you choke on the money. 
  • You should be ashamed of yourselves.
  • I will also be writing my congressional delegation, and hopefully I will be able to enlist their support to get these funds returned to the Treasury.

Of course, there's a lesson
The sad part about all this is that as we brainstormed over the amusing bells and whistles to add to the absurdity of our joke, we discovered that many of them had already been used ... in real life!

For example, one idea we had was to return the free money because it just wasn't worth the hassle. Well, more than 50 banks have already done that rather than deal with inconsistent and emotional politicians. And what about another idea we had -- that of using our bailout funds to make enormous bets against the dollar under the hypothesis that all of this wasteful spending will lead to the dollar's collapse (read this for how to protect yourself)? Well, Russia already did that.

It's no wonder, then, that some folks bought our joke hook, line, and sinker. After all, this is a world where John Thain spent $87,000 on a rug and where AIG (NYSE: AIG  ) has gotten four separate bailouts since September.

Perhaps worst of all
Finally, there was the notion that a heretofore unknown "loophole" allowed us to qualify for government funds in the first place. Just as soon as the bailout and stimulus bills passed, cottage industries popped up (most on the Internet) detailing how you can get your hands on some of that money. (On April 16, there's a one-hour Webinar to help you do just that -- kudos to you, Public Affairs Council. Kudos.)

Even details that were supposed to be dead giveaways that this was satire actually don't seem so ridiculous in hindsight. From our joke's FAQ section:

How will the taxpayers be paid back for their investment in The Motley Fool?

Step 1: Give The Motley Fool money.

Step 3: Profit.

We hope that's different from what's actually happening, but is it?

What's the point?
Look, the bailout is a fact of life. There's no going back on the trillions we taxpayers have already spent -- or look to be on the hook for. While Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) , JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) , and Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS  ) have expressed their desire to start repaying TARP funds as early as this month, we won't hold our breath. (No such promise came from automaker General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) . Just sayin'.) 

Further, we have to question just how well this expensive plan is going to work when financial firms such as Hudson City Bancorp (Nasdaq: HCBK  ) and Cullen/Frost Bankers (NYSE: CFR  ) have said "no, thanks" when offered TARP money.

What we can do, though, is request -- demand, even -- that this process have greater transparency, rationality, and common sense.

As citizens, we must hold our government accountable to their words and deeds. Government, in return, must respect our hard-earned dollars, be transparent about how those dollars are being spent, and stay true to their word and principles. If Treasury originally OK'd AIG to pay those now-maligned retention bonuses, for example, it should own up to and explain the decision and face the consequences of deteriorating popular opinion -- rather than allow Congress to go on a witch hunt against folks who acted in accordance with the law.

It's important to note that this is not a Republican-vs.-Democratic debate -- in other words, it's not a political issue but a civic one. Both parties should be held to the same standards of transparency, accountability, and open communication, and they should together be focused on actually solving this problem rather than scoring political points.

As Warren Buffett said in his March 9 interview with CNBC, "If you're in a war, and we really are in an economic war, there's an obligation to the majority to behave in ways that don't go around inflaming the minority."
 
Yes, these are nearly unprecedented economic times, but it's just like what we learned as kids: There's a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things. Demand the right way.

The Foolish bottom line
Throughout our 16-year history, The Motley Fool has always aimed to educate, amuse, and enrich our readers, and we've advocated for the rights of individual investors. We will continue to cover the goings-on and criticize or praise as the facts allow. We hope you'll bookmark Fool.com to follow along.

And let us hear your thoughts on our joke, your own April Fool's prank, or the TARP -- just chime in using the comments function below.

Fool on!

In case you missed the April Fool's Day Fool.com fun:

Neither Brian Richards nor Tim Hanson owns shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article. Brian and Tim are disappointed that April Fool's Day is 364 days away, but are looking forward to International Talk Like a Pirate Day. The Motley Fool, as ever, has a fully transparent disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (60) | Recommend This Article (129)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 12:44 PM, ShaunConnell wrote:

    You guys are a riot. =) I was kind of freaked out the first 15 seconds. Hehehehe. Very nice.

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 1:07 PM, TMFShortcake wrote:

    I think there are so many lessons here that we could write about them for months (and have been). Two big take aways for me as we came up with this joke were:

    1) How hard it is to find out exactly where the money is going and why. I think this site does a good job of breaking down the "where"

    http://www.propublica.org/special/show-me-the-tarp-money

    2) How quickly $25 million looks like pocket change compared to the amount that's being handed out overall.

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 1:21 PM, noryakerson wrote:

    You have to laugh, plain and simple. If you can't take a joke on April Fool's Day, especially given this year's fodder, then you might want to change your brand of underwear, because the ones you're wearing now are obviously too tight and bunching up. Keep up the good work! (I knew you were joking when you only asked for 25 million. Had it been 25 billion you might have had me going for a bit.)

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 2:09 PM, TMFKopp wrote:

    Just great... I was really looking forward to visiting that Brazilian island (http://www.fool.com/personal-finance/general/cash-4-fools-2.....

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 2:33 PM, beatnik11 wrote:

    I cant believe people actually took it seriously.. on april fool's of all days. At first I was curious and scratching my head until I got to the loophole with you claiming auto company status. Then I took a gander at how you spent the money and had quite a few hearty laughs. I love the island and those toilets. Great job!

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 2:55 PM, stmmmd99 wrote:

    I have to admit--I was taken in when I first read it. I did not realize it was April 1 until a couple of minutes later...!

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 3:13 PM, artemis021 wrote:

    This was really a masterpiece. Bravo!

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 3:38 PM, MeannessAKAdickp wrote:

    You got me!

    Good job.................

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 3:50 PM, rd80 wrote:

    Since April 1st is named for your service, a well executed prank is mandatory. This one was brilliant.

    I particularly enjoyed the creative ways you spent the first $24 million.

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 4:51 PM, newfoolin4real wrote:

    I am new and it took me a couple minutes to see the joke. A bit shocked at first but that is the hallmark of a great prank!

    I am a newby and love it!

    Thanks for the great laughs,

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 4:54 PM, efhouse wrote:

    Thanks for another good Fool's day prank. I was anxiously awaiting yesterday to see what you would come up with this year!

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 4:56 PM, connianna wrote:

    Once again, an excellent April fool! And it's even funnier that someone called you whores.

    But c'mon guys, I played along and now I want to know if Whitman Luther Whitmann, III was allocated the $1M. Did he win the vote? And, was that really a photograph of some delicious celeroccoli?

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 4:59 PM, FoolishLayman wrote:

    I was reading this article yesterday and was like OMG I can't believe this! Those dirty so-in-so's

    I was half-way through the article before I realized it was a joke. When I read the part "1 Illinois Senate Seat $50,000," I realized what the date was and nearly fell out of my chair. Good thing I wasn't drinking Cherry Coke Zeor at the time, or I too would request reimbursement for a ruined keyboard.

    Well done ladies and gentlemen!

    Thank you for being the Fools that you are!

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 4:59 PM, TMFMmbop wrote:

    It was fennel!

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 5:00 PM, TMFMmbop wrote:

    Celeroccoli=Fennel

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 5:04 PM, bob4932 wrote:

    I loved voting for Norman the Banker to get the money. The alcoholic volunteer and validation questions gave me quite a laugh. Congratulations to whoever set up the website. And I'm still looking for Crazy Al's Guns and Matresses; I need to order some stuff!

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 5:05 PM, harrymax wrote:

    I am just glad you didn't buy an island. With ice caps melting, you'd have to spend that much again for the levees. But I have to say, that I did not catch on, and the things you wrote yesterday depressed me. It is difficult these days to come up with an April Fools prank that is worse than reality. Much of reality looks like a joke, and April Fool pranks seem real.

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 5:09 PM, arthish wrote:

    I must admit that when I read your headline I felt my blood temperature rising but suspected that it must be an April FOOL's joke and as I read on into your diatribe realized what jokesters you guys are. Good job!

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 5:09 PM, jc09058 wrote:

    I must say that was a prefect and timely April Fool's joke. Granted I spent the first paragraph wondering how this was done and then realized that it was an joke. Then, I started laughing and laughing and laughing. Each tagged article being funny than the last in the email that was sent out.

    Point to you and well played.

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 5:09 PM, anitalee1 wrote:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your April Fool's bailout. When all the news around us is depressing, it was really nice to have a good laugh!

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 5:13 PM, sol wrote:

    Gmail autopilot, anyone?

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 5:14 PM, Northville wrote:

    I have to admit, I was actually expecting (hoping) you would continue the joke by announcing your new insurance subsidiary - started with government funds of course.

    Unfortunatly, as you pointed out above, this is what the US has come to.

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 5:17 PM, damastr wrote:

    Was read worthy until you mentioned "foolmobile". After that it was pretty obvious it was a prank and then from that point it just got so atrocious that I lost interest. Should have kept it believable. Nice try though.

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 5:19 PM, daniinLA wrote:

    This was a wonderful April Fool's prank -- I especially loved the fool-icon island. I forwarded showed it to several engineer friends and they all thought it was hysterical. Anyone who didn't 'catch on' didn't read the full article -- the hints that this was a joke were pretty strong (kiddie rides?). Keep up the great financial insight and the occasional jokes. Both are great.

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 5:22 PM, bretco wrote:

    Brilliant AND funny. I bought into it hook, line and sinker. With all the crazy stuff going on, why not ?

    My problem is that I went around telling a lot of people about your madcap genius, now, I'm going to appear the fool unless I co-op your alibi,

    It was only April Fools joke.

    Good Going Fools !!

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 5:24 PM, damastr wrote:

    Was read worthy until you mentioned "foolmobile". After that it was pretty obvious it was a prank and then from that point it just got so atrocious that I lost interest. Should have kept it believable. Nice try though.

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 5:50 PM, hanumanj1 wrote:

    Being one of the new Fools, I think you had quite a lot of us fooled - until we read how the 25 million was acquired and then how the first 24 million was allocated.

    It was very well planned and executed.

    We needed a little humor for balance.

    Great job.

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 6:01 PM, trenton1ryan wrote:

    I was hoping you were referring to losses you actually took over the last year or so. 25 mil seemed a bit low, but wtfdik??

    I actually finished the first article and didn't quite get it. When I clicked on the second article, and the first thing I saw was the date, I figured it out.

    I think it was quite believable-to a point.

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 6:12 PM, RimmerCommaAce wrote:

    You forgot (or maybe you didn't),

    Step 2 : ... a miracle happens!

    Good job.

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 6:14 PM, NovInv07 wrote:

    Whew! What an incredible relief.

    In the midst of studying the terrific insights MF offers, I was reviewing in my mind what I wanted to write/say to your news of the $25M.

    Thanks for NOT taking any $.

    (No [supposed] gilded cages, please)

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 6:26 PM, fdcoleman wrote:

    It was a great Foolk's day. First my eyes popped and thern I laught until my belly ached. One needs a belly laugh once in a while in order to stand the heavy hand of Government on Business

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 6:43 PM, jjbudig wrote:

    Well done Fool! Nicely put together. But a low blow was delivered - slamming Steve Guttenberg and his collection of movies - LMAO!!

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 6:48 PM, rb54 wrote:

    thank god, I had a sick feeling all the while I was reading the article.

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 6:54 PM, gaswelldealer wrote:

    So why dont we form a consortium and apply for bail out money... after all we need to keep the printing presses printing. We need a new $10.000 bill with Toms picture on it. I sure could use a trip to fools isle

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 7:10 PM, EBerg13 wrote:

    I actually liked the foolish dating site. I mean, I would love to find a nice guy with a bit of cash (like me) for some day trading. Who knows, could lead to long term capital gains.

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 7:46 PM, cabam101 wrote:

    I realize it was a joke when you didn't try and sell me a new service.

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 7:46 PM, ReillyDiefenbach wrote:

    And here I was thinking First Marblehead was the April Fool's prank.

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 8:46 PM, carefulinvestor wrote:

    And here we have an example of the real truth imitating fiction.

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 9:21 PM, TMFTortoise wrote:

    Hi damastr and everyone else -- actually, the Foolmobile is real. The company bought it several years ago and painted it up that way. I believe the picture shown, with the inflatable jester cap on top, is legit.

    Glad you all enjoyed the joke!

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 10:59 PM, TMFJoeInvestor wrote:

    This was a joke?! Do I have to given the black swans back?

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2009, at 11:01 PM, seagrovebeach wrote:

    I am still trying to vote for the alcoholic community activist. Are you gonna post her again. Thanks for the levity, it is well needed at this time.

  • Report this Comment On April 03, 2009, at 12:07 AM, adwlv wrote:

    Here is another plan...There are 40 million working folks over the age of 50. Give them early retirement and pay them each $1,000,000. ($40,000,000) That is only one quarter of the latest AIG bonus payments.

    Results - 40 million job openings - each new retiree can by a new car, helps the auto industry, pay off the mortgage, gives banks new money to lend to first time buyers. Invest the balance $700,000 @ 3% = $21,000 which is close to the average social security payment. Withdraw additional $29,000 each year (will last 24 years to age 74 while providing $50,000 a year income. New car fully paid, no mortgage....where do I sign up?

  • Report this Comment On April 03, 2009, at 1:52 AM, dgmennie wrote:

    Very nice idea "adw1vegas" -- except you got the math wrong.

    Giving 40 million working folks over the age of 50 $1 Million each would cost $40,000,000,000,000.00.

    A bit of a budget buster. At age 66 I would love the extra cash, but I would not like Argentina-style inflation. When Obana's stimulus money starts looking for goods and services in the real world of supply and demand there could be trouble ahead.

    Perhaps you would like to go food shopping with a wheelbarrow -- to hold the funds needed for a loaf of bread?

  • Report this Comment On April 03, 2009, at 7:24 AM, learningTim wrote:

    "What we can do, though, is request -- demand, even -- that this process have greater transparency, rationality, and common sense.

    As citizens, we must hold our government accountable to their words and deeds."

    I would suggest that anyone that feels this way investigate HR 1207 and get your congressmen to sign on as a co-sponsor -

    http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-1207

    The Federal Reserve Transparency act. We have a right to know where our money has went, and how much is left!!

  • Report this Comment On April 03, 2009, at 7:26 AM, learningTim wrote:

    Darn - that should have been 'money has gone' not 'money has went' - sheesh. :)

  • Report this Comment On April 03, 2009, at 8:01 AM, billandpat wrote:

    I am new to Motley Fools and you really had me going ... I am happy to say you were Foolin!

  • Report this Comment On April 03, 2009, at 8:19 AM, longbourne wrote:

    I had a good laugh, thanks. Told a friend about it that evening and he had a good laugh. Then I read this morning some people did not get the joke, very puzzling because from first to last I thought it was obvious. Almost as good as reading The Onion.

    Thanks for brightening my day.

  • Report this Comment On April 03, 2009, at 9:36 AM, Radiance08 wrote:

    It was April 1 so I expected a joke from the Fools and this one was superb!

    Keep us laughing in these troubled times is a very good thing.

    I guess I'll throw away my application for my bailout funds now...

    Keep up good work.

  • Report this Comment On April 03, 2009, at 10:02 AM, jibz wrote:

    How anyone could have believed this wonderful fable challenges the mind. I laughed until I cried. Two days later, the grin remains. Thanks guys, we needed that!!

  • Report this Comment On April 03, 2009, at 10:53 AM, ZenMasterK wrote:

    HAHAHAHA. Good one!

    I thought that smelled awfully fishy, but I was so busy I never made the April Fool connection. Just proves there's no Fool like a Motley Fool.

  • Report this Comment On April 03, 2009, at 3:42 PM, 19414hqueen wrote:

    to ZenMasterK - I too thought it was smelly, (fishy) but being a little new to Motley Fool I didn't make the connection to APRIL FOOLS DAY until I started reading the comments today. The Gov't does so many foolish things, I really thought IS THIS POSSIBLE?

  • Report this Comment On April 03, 2009, at 8:05 PM, APoorRichGirl wrote:

    I LOVED the deserving individuals you found for us to vote on! ;D Thanks for the chuckles!

    Very sad that some people thought this was for real ... although how that can be, I've got no clue. All you had to do was follow the link and it should have been obvious to the most dense person.

    I think my favorite was Fool Island!

    Heee-heee-heeee!

  • Report this Comment On April 03, 2009, at 9:07 PM, EnigmaDude wrote:

    I'm happy to give you rec #100 for this most excellent blog post!

  • Report this Comment On April 03, 2009, at 10:03 PM, Shawnerz wrote:

    I'm still trying to find the hot chicks over on the "non-financial offerings" page here:

    http://www.fool.com/love/Welcome.htm

    Good job! ;-)

  • Report this Comment On April 05, 2009, at 8:27 PM, BrokeSiren wrote:

    At first I was like, "Are you kidding me??" And as I read further, I finally realized that you guys were!!

    Thanks for the laughs and keep up the good work you do here for us all. =)

  • Report this Comment On April 06, 2009, at 3:45 PM, goldengirl2362 wrote:

    I loved it!

  • Report this Comment On April 07, 2009, at 9:22 PM, 4onthebeach wrote:

    I look forward to this every year. It was great, I don't know why you only went for $25 million. $25 Billion is more the norm these days.

  • Report this Comment On April 08, 2009, at 11:13 AM, KWT8011 wrote:

    I really would like to meet the people who, for more than 45 seconds, thought you were serious. I have plenty of NYC beachfront property to unload - and its CHEAP!

  • Report this Comment On April 08, 2009, at 4:08 PM, KKnese wrote:

    I still think the joke was lame compared to the oh so safe, too good to be true CDs and Mutual funds you could have "peddled" ala Madoff and Stanford. Still, at least you tried.

  • Report this Comment On April 09, 2009, at 3:18 PM, duke6066 wrote:

    Loved the humor. Too bad we have reached the stage in our society that we appear to have lost the ability to maintain this useful sense. Perhaps it's a sign of the economic times. The fact that some folks believed this lends me to believe that they might be employees of the financial institutions that that bought the mortgage-backed bundled securities that

    have brought us to our knees today! Might be worth checking!

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