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Confusing Fundraiser for NASA Planetary Science

By Keith Cowing
May 3, 2012
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Carwash Will Help Raise Funds, Awareness.Professional Carwashing & Detailing,
“Across the country, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), will be holding charity carwashes on June 9 to help restore cuts to NASA’s Planetary Exploration Budget, according to the Planetary ExplorationCar Wash& Bake Sale website.” It also is being used to “raise awareness” on the effects of the cuts. The publication asks, “Will a nationwide charity carwash raise enough money to restore NASA’s programs?”
Keith’s initial note: This item was contained in today’s ‘Bulletin News’ which is circulated within NASA. No one seems to have tried to correct this. Note that the bake sale website says “Funds collected by each event sent by event organizers to House or Senate Appropriations – dozens of letters with cash.”
Keith’s 3 May 7:19 pm update: The website at SwRI has been changed. This is what it originally looked like – note wording in lower right hand corner. Now the site says “recommend token pricing, e.g.: $2 for a carwash – the purpose of collected funds is just meant to cover the cost of soap, towels, etc, required to host the event.” So … what’s the point? Its sounds like virtually no money will be raised by this event. As far as I can tell this webpage talked about giving Congress “letters with cash” for several weeks. Then it is mentioned here on NASAWatch and suddenly the event’s organizers drop the overt fundraising – which seems to have been the core purpose in the first place? Why not donate the proceeds to NSS or the Planetary Society?

Original Post:
This rather naive. It is not a particularly smart thing to send a current member of Congress or their staff “letters with cash”. If you do try to give it to them personally it could be considered a campaign donation – and the names of the donors have to be reported. These funds could also be construed as lobbying since the donors and couriers who hand the money to members of Congress could be in a position to receive NASA funds.
You really cannot just give cash to anyone who works on the Hill as a donation. Who is it actually from? Is it collected via a non-profit or registered charity? The IRS and FEC like details like that. If a member of Congress or a staff employee did let you leave the cash on their desk – or opened an envelope filled with cash – they’d just have to forward it on to the Treasury Department. Funds given by the public to the U.S. Government as donations cannot be earmarked for any specific task and are deposited into an account called “Gifts to the United States” which rolls into the general fund. The only way that Congress can cause NASA to get specific amounts of money is if they agree to a budget via the formal appropriations process – and the President signs the legislation that results.
If the organizers had done a little homework they’d know this. The smart thing to do would be to give the money to the National Space Society or the Planetary Society where it will actually help promote the issue of space exploration. Throwing the money in an envelope and then donating it into an obscure general account at the Treasury Department does nothing in that regard. If the organizers (or Hill staffers) beg to differ, there is a comment section associated with this post.

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.