In Italy people can choose to assign a small amount of their taxes, 0.8 percent, to a favourite good cause, the so-called otto per mille*. This contribution either goes to the Catholic or Lutheran Churches, or the State. The State is supposed to use the money for well-defined humanitarian, environmental and cultural causes. At least, that is what I gleened from the wikipedia entry. I am sure our Italian readers could expand on this.
To my surprise I had to learn from Middle East expert Juan Cole that the Italian government used the otto per mille contributions to fund… the Italian war effort in Iraq. Now, it could be argued that the Italian contingent in Iraq is engaged in humanitarian activities but I doubt all those generous Italian citizens had that in mind when they allowed the government to spend some of their tax money on a good cause.
However, the AGI article Juan Cole mentions is the only English language source I could find for this, so maybe we should be careful before we start talking about kleptocracies. Are there any Italian readers or Italy watchers who could tell us more?
*Thanks to reader Stefano for correcting me on the definition of otto per mille