If you’ve ever watched late night TV on one of the lesser channels, you’ve probably run across an ad by Matthew Lesko. Don’t recognize the name? Maybe you remember a strange little man with glasses wearing a suit covered in question marks, bouncing around the marble columns of Washington and screaming that he can tell you hundreds of ways to get money from the government. That’s Lesko.

Our local "independent" newspaper, The Washington City Paper, this week offers a fascinating profile of this character. As the article points out, Lesko is something of a con man since almost all the materials in his books and CDs are copied directly from government publications, information his customers could get for free.

Much of the “free money” that Lesko rants about actually comes in the form of loans and entitlement programs, such as welfare, and his books consist almost entirely of public-domain text culled from government manuals and Web sites. Any original material usually comes in the form of introductions and chapter lead-ins.

Lesko’s story is an interesting one, reinforcing the image of an all-American charlatan. However, the only reason someone like him can exist in the first place is the fact that government budgets have tons of pork and offer thousands of handout programs for very small constituencies. It’s not hard for Lesko to sell an audience on the idea that politicians are hiding something from them.