World & Nation

State Department throws wet blanket on Ice Bucket Challenge

George W. Bush, Laura Bush
In this image from a video posted on Facebook, courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, former President George W. Bush participates in the Ice Bucket Challenge with the help of his wife, Laura Bush, in Kennebunkport, Maine.
(Associated Press)

U.S. State Department officials have put a damper on high-ranking officials who might be getting swept up in the Ice Bucket Challenge frenzy currently being tapped to raise money for ALS research.

“High-ranking State Department officials are unfortunately unable to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge,” said spokeswoman Marie Harf at a State Department press briefing Thursday. “

“Federal government ethics rules prevent us from using our public offices ... for private gain, no matter how worthy the cause is,” Harf said, adding that, “This is, of course, a worthy cause.”

Harf’s comments came after reports of a diplomatic cable that was sent to all U.S. missions, which highlighted the department’s global mandate to fight disease. “It is often difficult for us, as concerned citizens, to pick and choose among many worthy charities,” the memo read. “It is even more difficult when high-ranking State Department personnel with high-profile positions are asked to participate” in fundraising.


Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, was one of the State Department officials who apparently participated in the challenge, though a video of his ice bucket soaking has since been set to private. Harf said she doesn’t expect Shapiro or others to face disciplinary action.

The challenge involves participants dousing themselves (or their friends) with buckets of ice water on video and posting them to social media. The idea is to challenge others to do the same or else donate money to research for ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative condition also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. (Many of the ice bucket dunkers have been donating, anyway).

After the movement picked up steam last week, the ALS Assn., one of the organizations raising funds for the cause, has reported raising more than $41 million.

Celebrities and politicians alike have participated in the challenge, although some politicos have taken to scrubbing evidence of their Ice Bucket Challenges from the Internet, according to an archive of deleted tweets compiled by Politwoops.


Other famous bucket dunkers include former President George W. Bush, and Kennedy family matriarch Ethel Kennedy, who in turn challenged President Obama.

Obama declined to participate, a spokesman told the Associated Press, but instead made an undisclosed donation to an ALS organization.

The State Department is not the only organization trying to dampen participation in the challenge this week: A Roman Catholic diocese in Ohio said it would not donate to the ALS Assn., saying that while the organization “does many good works,” it supports embryonic stem cell research, a research method many Catholics oppose.

On Thursday, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s schools superintendent did participate in an Ice Bucket Challenge, but donated the money instead to a medical research institute that does not use embryonic stem cells.

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