"Special Interest" auto license plates -- how much goes to the cause?

Many states these days offer the option of getting vehicle license plates for an extra fee that supposedly goes to whatever issue is highlighted on the plate. I’ve looked at the NJ motor vehicle site and some others, plus charitynavigator.com, and have not been able to find out how much of the extra fee actually goes to the charity, cause or special interest being “supported.” Does anybody know? Or know where I can find out? I have a sneaking suspicion that it would be a lot more efficient just to donate directly to an organization with verifiable credentials than trusting the government (even the motor vehicle agency, which is of course widely known for its honesty and efficiency), but maybe I’m just being paranoid.

I am looking for a fact, such as X% of the extra fees go to fight cancer, or protect the seashore, or whatever. If the powers that be think this is more of an opinion, please do move the thread.

The New Jersey DMV website doesn’t say, so I’d assume that all of the fee goes to the state. In New York, though, the organizations get some money as shown here.

Well, if 100% of the fee goes to the State of NJ, or the DMV, and none of it goes to any specific organization other than that, the only thing a person is doing is increasing some vague “awareness” of whatever issue?

In California , the extra fees go to the cause.

Checking the California DMV website it says that money goes to support the various causes, but it does not give a dollar figure.

Do these other sites say the exact name of the organization, as the NY site does? Some charities and other causes spend a disproportionately high amount on administration and fund-raising. From the NJ site, I can’t tell what portion of the fee goes to the charity at all, or exactly which organization(s) are being funded.

My husband had thought one of these special interest plates might be a worthwhile thing; I am not so sure and was looking for some facts one way or the other. I guess for NJ they aren’t available.

Thanks anyway.

As someone who works in a medium where advertising pays the bills, I’d say that’s a rather substantial benefit.

Not how I’d want to spend my money, though. For example, for $45 I can get a license plate that says “Cure Cancer.” If all I’m doing is pointing out to anyone who sees the plate that it would be a good idea to cure cancer, well, I think I’d have wasted $45. On the other hand, if the money goes to some specific organization that helps cancer victims, or provides funds for cancer research, that would be worthwhile, unless that organization is going to spend $40 of it on executive salaries and fund raising and only $5 on their “mission.”

If your goal is to benefit a cause, contribute to a well-researched organization rather than getting a cause-related license plate or participating in any sort of cause-related marketing. This is an article from the New York Times that discusses such arrangements and points out that there’s no guarantee that the cause will get any money.

And take a deal like the Yoplait “Save Lids to Save Lives” campaign, in which the yogurt company promised to contribute ten cents to a breast cancer charity for every yogurt lid that was sent in, up to a maximum of 1.5 million dollars. First of all, what’s the cost of having consumers collect, clean and mail in yogurt lids, and what’s the cost of processing them? I suspect it’s more than ten cents a lid. And how much did the yogurt company spend on advertising this campaign? I’ll bet it was more than 1.5 million dollars. So they could have contributed more by just shutting up and sending in a check from corporate headquarters. But that wouldn’t sell any yogurt.

This was just on the local news; Oregon now has 47 different specialty plates w/ the newest one promoting bike/auto safety. That one costs $10.00 extra and supposedly $8.50 of that will go to building/improving bike access and bike safety.

In New Mexico, it’s $37 extra to get a university license plate. $25 goes to the school. Other plates are also listed here: http://www.tax.state.nm.us/pubs/specplat.htm

Generally speaking, I agree with you. The NY Times article speaks of specific merchandise-related arrangements; I’d love to have a similar discussion of MV license plate programs so I could tell my husband I have a basis for my gut feeling.

In Texas:

From here.

In Florida the figure is approx. 70% (varies from tag to tag, because the total fee and amount that goes to the appropriate organization is always a whole number, and the plates vary in price).

A vaguely interesting list of how much money each tag raised last year is available:
http://www.hsmv.state.fl.us/html/SpecPlateRev.html

The Gators dominate at license plate sales, too.