Matthew Lesko wearing question-mark attire in 2007
|Born||May 11, 1943|
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, United States
|Known for||"Free Money" Books|
|Spouse(s)||Wendy Schaetzel Lesko, Roberta Kleinstein, Leila K. Kight|
|Children||Max and Morgan|
Matthew John Lesko (born May 11, 1943) is an American author known for his publications and infomercials on federal grant funding. He has written over twenty books instructing people how to get money from the United States government. Widely recognized for recording television commercials, infomercials, and interviews in colorful suits decorated with question marks, Lesko's signature fashion also extends into his daily attire and transportation, earning him the nickname Question Mark Guy.
Life and career
Lesko grew up in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Lesko received his undergraduate degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee. Upon graduation he was commissioned as an officer in the Navy. In the Navy, he served as a navigator aboard the USS Oxford in the South China Sea during the Vietnam War. When Lesko returned he earned a master's degree in business administration (MBA) from American University in Washington, D.C.
In 1975, Lesko quit his job designing computerized information systems and co-founded Washington Researchers with his then-wife Leila K. Kight.
After a slow start, Lesko hit upon the idea of sending out a professional newsletter telling people how to get free information. The newsletter started bringing in clients, and by 1979 Washington Researchers employed 30 people in its Washington, D.C. office.
As side lines of business, Lesko began publishing directories for those who preferred to do their own research, such as the Researcher's Guide to Washington, and conducting seminars on the types of information then available from the government.
Lesko was able to interest publisher Viking in his idea to publish a directory of government information sources in 1980. That book, Getting Yours: The Complete Guide to Government Money, was published by Viking's Penguin subsidiary in 1982.
He claims to have researched government grants for over 25 years.
Critics claim that Lesko is misleading in his advertisements. A 2004 report by the New York State Consumer Protection Board claimed that most of the grants mentioned in Lesko's books were actually public assistance programs that many people were not eligible for, and that Lesko misrepresented examples of people who had taken advantage of government programs.
The New York Times criticized him for having implied a current association with the paper long after ending a 1992–1994 NYT column.
In an interview with the Washington Post in July 2007, Lesko admitted having assembled his books from government guides to grants and loans, quoting Lesko as saying of his first book "I plagiarized the whole thing" and "I didn't write a lick." Lesko later added "I get stuff for free and I sell it for as much as I can get."
In popular culture
- In the season four episode of The Venture Bros. titled "The Better Man", Jefferson Twilight trains with cardboard cut-outs of various villains. When one of the cut-outs turns out to be Matthew Lesko, Jefferson explains that he mistook Lesko for a villain "he was wearing punctuation on his suit", like that worn by Batman villain Riddler. The Alchemist contends that he "helps people get free money from the government" and therefore is a good guy.
- In the season two episode of Drawn Together titled "Little Orphan Hero", The question mark suit that Spanky Ham wears in the TV commercial is a reference to Lesko.
- Comedian Andy Dick parodied Lesko on his short-lived MTV sketch comedy program The Andy Dick Show.
- In season 6, episode 21 ("My Rabbit") of the television series Scrubs, Dr. Cox refers to Lesko in a rant: "Pregnant women are among a select group of people who are actually allowed to act insane, much like sports mascots, local weathermen, theme park performers and that guy with the question mark jacket who teaches people how to get free money from the government."
- In MAD Classic #45, Lesko is placed second on the 50 Worst Things About Advertising.
- Lesko appeared as himself in advertisements for the album Danger Doom.
- In an episode of the podcast Chapo Trap House, Lesko is discussed as a possible left-wing counter to Donald Trump's irreverent populist appeal and a potential Democratic presidential candidate for the 2020 presidential election.
Matthew Lesko's company, Information USA, has published several reference books including:
- Information U.S. (1986, ISBN 0-14-046745-9)
- Getting Yours (1987, ISBN 0-14-046760-2)
- 1001 Free Goodies and Cheapies (1994, ISBN 1-878346-25-3)
- Free College Money, Term Papers, and Sex Ed (1994, ISBN 1-878346-24-5)
- Lesko's Info-Power (1994, ISBN 1-878346-17-2)
- Free Health Care, Free Medical Information and Free Prescription Drugs (1995, ISBN 1-878346-34-2)
- Gobs and Gobs of Free Stuff (1996, ISBN 1-878346-33-4)
- Free Legal Help (1996, ISBN 1-878346-35-0)
- Free Stuff for Busy Moms! (1999, ISBN 1-878346-49-0)
- Free College and Training Money For Women (2000, ISBN 1-878346-52-0)
- Free Money and Help for Women Entrepreneurs (2000, ISBN 1-878346-51-2)
- Free Money For Your Retirement (2000, ISBN 1-878346-60-1)
- Free Stuff for Women's Health, Fitness, and Nutrition (2000, ISBN 1-878346-50-4)
- Free Money To Change Your Life (2001, ISBN 1-878346-40-7)
- Free Money To Pay Your Bills (2003, ISBN 1-878346-65-2)
- Free Money To Get A Better Home (2004, ISBN 1-878346-67-9)
- Free Money To Quit Your Job (2004, ISBN 1-878346-68-7)
- Free Money for Entrepreneurs (2005, ISBN 1-878346-69-5)
- American Benefits for Seniors: Getting the Most Out of Your Retirement (2006, ISBN 1-878346-87-3)
All of his books claim to contain information about how to get free money from the United States government.
- "Questions for Matthew Lesko, the Question Mark Man". The Black Table. 2005. Retrieved 2015-11-16.
I have a yellow Mini Cooper with question marks on it. I have a little orange Scion with question marks on it ... I usually ride around on a Vespa with question marks on it. Question marks are my anti-theft device.
- Triplett, William. "Matthew Lesko The 'Free Money' Man: Asking the Right Questions", Vietnam Veterans of America, The VVA Veteran Online magazine, May/June 2019. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
- Kernan, Michael (20 March 1979). "The Facts Fanciers... From Cocoa Beans to Clothespins". The Washington Post. ProQuest 147018445.
- "Media Fast Track". The Washington Post. 13 January 1980 – via Proquest.
- "Media Fast Track". The Washington Post. 25 April 1982. ProQuest 147447111.
- Carlson, Peter (2007-07-15). "Marked Man: Washington's Infomercial King? Matthew Lesko, No Question". Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-07-15.
- "How misleading advertising is feeding a nationwide boom in government grant scams" (PDF). New York State Consumer Protection Board. 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 7, 2006. Retrieved 2006-04-30.
- Fred, Joseph P. (3 March 2005). "Free Money? Sure. Heard of Food Stamps?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2006-04-22. "In August 2006, Lesko modified his credentials on his Web site, lesko.com, which described him (as his books did) as a columnist for Good Housekeeping Magazine and The New York Times Syndicate. He wrote the magazine column in the 1980s and the column for the syndicate from 1992 to 1994. Both organizations recently told him that these did not justify his suggestion of a current association."
- Dhingra, Philip (8 Aug 2005). "Bernard Goldberg's 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America? And Why?". Philosophy History.
He is a symbol for self-centered free-riders
- Carlson, Peter (15 July 2007). "Marked Man". Washington Post.
- Better Business Bureau of Washington, D.C. Report 14 November 2007
- Matthew Lesko infomercials
- "Questions for Matthew Lesko, the Question Mark Man" - 29 September 2005 Interview with Matthew Lesko
- "The Culler of Money" - 6 July 2005 Baltimore City Paper Interview and article
- "Free Money? Don't Think So" - Consumer Affairs report on Lesko
- Matthew Lesko on Tom Green Live
- We Tell Your Story To The World Matthew Lesko Interview by Mike Sullivan of Sully’s Blog
-  Matthew Lesko is a Role Model
- Appearances on C-SPAN