(born 1943) is an American
author and host of an infomercial often played late night on basic cable. He has authored reference books telling people how to get "free" money from the United States Government
. He is popularly known as "that question mark
guy" for the Riddler
-like suit that he wears in his television commercials
, interviews, and in everyday use.
Lesko lives near Washington, D.C. with his third wife Wendy Schaetzel Lesko and their two sons, Marty and Morgan. He grew up in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Lesko received his undergraduate degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee, then went to Vietnam as a navigator for the U.S. Navy. When Lesko returned he earned a master's degree in business administration (MBA) from American University in Washington D.C. He claims to have researched government grants for over 25 years.
Lesko is known for his colorful suit decorated with question marks. Lesko's appearances, hawking a chance at government grant money wearing the flamboyant outfit, have been described by one message board as "a libertarian fashion designer's nightmare.
Mr. Lesko sometimes wears his trademark "question mark suit" during his daily activities in and around Washington, D.C., and (at least some of) his automobiles are decorated in a similar attention-grabbing manner.
Lesko has been shown in attendance on the video scoreboard at Washington Nationals games wearing a white coat with a red question mark on the back.
Lesko was a regular subject in the early days of animutation.
Lesko's children are active in the campaign for presidential candidate Barack Obama.
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 1992-94 NYT column.
In 2005, Lesko was named #99 in Bernard Goldberg's book 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America, because, "He is a symbol for self-centered free-riders.
In an interview to Washington Post in July 2007, Lesko admitted having plagiarized his books from government guides to grants and loans: "His business model is simple: 'I get stuff for free and I sell it for as much as I can get.'
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)
- 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.
- On The Andy Dick Show; Andy Dick poked fun at Lesko when he created the character, Lyle Tillman, dressed in an exclamation point, and screamed out "Free!" to many things that indeed are not free.
- Lesko appeared wearing his trademark suit in a series of commercials for the album DANGERDOOM, which were filmed in a style similar to his "free money" commercials.
- Andy Samberg played Lesko in a Celebrity Apprentice parody on the February 23rd, 2008 episode of Saturday Night Live.
- On a recent episode of The Daily Show where his commercials were parodied featuring John Oliver.
- On the episode My Point of No Return of the sitcom Scrubs, Dr. Cox mentioned Lesko when he was naming people who, like soon-to-be brides, are allowed to act crazy. He was referred to as "that guy in the question-mark suit who tells people how to get free money from the government."