Capitol Alert

California tax form checkoffs still a popular way for charities to raise – a little – money

Toola acted as a surrogate mom to an orphaned sea otter pup at Monterey Bay Aquarium. The California Sea Otter Fund raised $304,000 from taxpayers’ voluntary check-offs on their state tax returns during the 2014 tax year.
Toola acted as a surrogate mom to an orphaned sea otter pup at Monterey Bay Aquarium. The California Sea Otter Fund raised $304,000 from taxpayers’ voluntary check-offs on their state tax returns during the 2014 tax year. Monterey Bay Aquarium

From sea otters to peace officers, California taxpayers long have had the ability to give directly to selected charities through charitable checkoffs on their state tax forms.

Creating new checkoffs or continuing existing ones is a recurring focus of state legislation. But history suggests it’s a hard way to make a buck: Many of the charities end up getting little from taxpayers, state figures show. Some raise so little that they ultimately lose their spot on the tax form.

Twenty voluntary contribution checkoffs generated about $5.2 million in contributions in 2014, compared with more than $113 billion in income tax revenue for the state in the fiscal year that ended Tuesday. The most successful were the Emergency Food for Families Fund and the Rare and Endangered Species Preservation Fund.

San Francisco’s 94133 ZIP code yielded the most tax checkoff donations in 2014, about $111,000, while Davis’ 95616 ZIP code generated the most in the Sacramento region, about $18,000.

More voluntary contribution checkoff bills continue to work their way through the Legislature.

Earlier this week, a Senate committee approved legislation backed by animal lovers to create a Prevention of Animal Homelessness and Cruelty Fund. Under the bill, the first $250,000 in tax checkoff donations would pay for spay and neuter programs. Additional money would be spent to prevent, investigate and prosecute animal cruelty and neglect.

A pair of similarly named, pet-themed contribution checkoffs in recent years fell by the wayside after failing to meet required monetary thresholds. But proponents told the Senate Governance and Finance Committee on Wednesday that social media would help animal-rights groups get the word out during tax time.

There have been periodic calls to overhaul California’s system, which gives a leg up to groups that can afford to navigate the legislative process. The two groups that reported lobbying on Assembly Bill 485 in the first quarter of 2015 – the Humane Society of the United States and the State Humane Association of California – listed about $17,000 in direct lobbying expenses.

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