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Monday, Oct. 20, 2014

US diplomats barred from ice bucket challenge

By Matthew Lee, Associated Press

Published: Thu, Aug. 21 10:18 a.m. MDT

 Tennessee Titans players take part in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and pour ice water over their heads after NFL football practice Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. The charity stunt has lured athletes, celebrities, politicians and rock stars and gone viral on the Internet, but don't look for U.S. diplomats to get in on the fun.

Tennessee Titans players take part in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and pour ice water over their heads after NFL football practice Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. The charity stunt has lured athletes, celebrities, politicians and rock stars and gone viral on the Internet, but don't look for U.S. diplomats to get in on the fun.

(Mark Humphrey, Associated Press)

WASHINGTON — The charity stunt has lured athletes, celebrities, politicians and rock stars and gone viral on the Internet, but don't look for U.S. diplomats to get in on the fun.

Lawyers at the State Department have banned American ambassadors and other high-profile foreign service officers from participating in the ice-bucket challenge to raise money and awareness for Lou Gehrig's disease, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. In a cable sent this week to all U.S. diplomatic missions, the lawyers say it runs afoul of federal ethics rules barring officials from using public office for private gain "no matter how worthy the cause." The unclassified cable, sent on Tuesday, was obtained by The Associated Press Thursday.

The cable said public health and disease prevention are some of the State Department's highest priorities, noting U.S. funding for global programs to fight HIV and AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, smallpox and polio and recent efforts to combat the Ebola virus. And, it complimented the ALS Association on the success of its ice bucket challenge, which has raised more than $40 million and attracted a plethora of notable participants, including former President George W. Bush, television hosts Martha Stewart and Matt Lauer and pro golfer Greg Norman.

But it also pointed out that choosing among worthy charities can be a difficult personal decision that is made "even more difficult when high-ranking State Department personnel with high-profile positions are asked to participate in charitable fund-raising, and concerns about preference and favoritism always arise."

"There are firmly established rules preventing the use of public office, such as our ambassadors, for private gain, no matter how worthy a cause," the cable said. "Thus, high-ranking State Department officials are unfortunately unable to participate in the ice bucket challenge. We since wish the ALS Association continued success in its ice bucket campaign, and in its fight against Lou Gehrig's disease."

By the time the cable was sent at least one high-ranking diplomat, Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro, had already participated and had challenged U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power to douse herself with ice water for the cause. But by then, Power and the other ambassadors got the memo.

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1. RichardB
Murray, UT,
Aug. 21, 2014

I see Obama has refused to do it. My guess is that this will become his excuse. He doesn't seem to have a problem promoting late night talk shows. A charity in my mind would be more worthwhile.

2. Redshirt1701
Deep Space 9, Ut,
Aug. 21, 2014

Let me get this straight. A diplomat cannot do something for a charity because of their office, yet a politician can use their office to solicit donations for their campaign. Doesn't that seem a bit hypocritical?

3. Schnee
Salt Lake City, UT,
Aug. 21, 2014

@RichardB
If he did it, Republicans would be just saying he's demeaning the office anyway (like George Bush's quip that it didn't seem very presidential).

4. Chris B
Salt Lake City, UT,
Aug. 21, 2014

schnee,

Like a typical liberal, leave out the most important part of a story - right after Bush said that his wife dumped ice water all over him. He was clearly mocking the notion he was too good or "too presidential" for that. Why did your purposely leave that part out? So very dishonest. And sadly expected.

Its too bad barack wouldn't give 5 minutes to raise awareness for this charity and do it like Bush did.

5. Lawyer in Spain
Rota, 00,
Aug. 21, 2014

I'm a federal government ethics attorney. The law prohibits federal government employees from endorsing or soliciting on behalf of a charity, if they use their official position in any way or if government endorsement might be inferred. The rules are a little different for elected officials and certain extremely high-level folks (think cabinet members), but are most strict for the next level down (senior department officials and administrators). It's actually a pretty good system because it prevents anyone who is a career employee of the federal government from using their positions for personal gain or to favor particular companies/non-profits, which is the root of most corruption in countries without such rules.