January 13, 2018; Newsweek
In the midst of a government shutdown with no end in sight, the absurd attempt to use crowdfunding site GoFundMe as an alternate means to fund the president’s efforts to build an enormous wall on the southern US border has become even more convoluted, turning into a purported DIY project. The motives of its initiator, who turns out to be a serial conservative site builder, have also come under scrutiny.
Brian Kolfage’s private attempt to raise $1 billion to put toward the wall’s costs raised only $20 million. Since GoFundMe collects money from donors regardless of whether the target has been hit, Kolfage has proposed that the money should go toward his new nonprofit, “We Build The Wall, Inc.” This, GoFundMe spokesman Bobby Whithorne says, breaks the rules.
“When the campaign was created, the campaign organizer specifically stated on the campaign page, ‘If we don’t reach our goal or come significantly close we will refund every single penny,’” Whithorne says. “He also stated on the campaign page, ‘100 percent of your donations will go to the Trump Wall. If for any reason we don’t reach our goal we will refund your donation.” However, that did not happen. This means all donors will receive a refund.
Kolfage says that former donors ought to send their refunded money to his new scheme—after all, he claims, his extensive personal research has convinced him that his team can build the wall faster and cheaper than the government could, and that he can administer the donated funds with more efficiency and alacrity.
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Okay, plans can change. But NBC News suggests that money for the wall might not have been the endgame anyway; instead, the veteran now has a potentially lucrative list for fundraising and outreach to conservative causes. Kolfage claims to have gathered 3.5 million conservative email addresses through the border wall campaign alone.
According to multiple sources, including MediaMatters, Kolfage has a history of publishing far-right websites—ones Facebook eventually barred from the platform for inauthentic behavior—and starting or engaging with conservative fundraising campaigns, including one for Brett Kavanaugh that raised $600,000.
According to former employees and public records including website archives, Nevada business registrations and property records, Kolfage has repeatedly created GoFundMe campaigns and published inflammatory fake news articles, pushing them both from websites that he sought to hide behind shell companies and false identities, in part to harvest email addresses. Those addresses were then used to push people back to Kolfage’s websites, to sell a brand of coffee he owns, or to be stockpiled for future use by conservative campaigns.
In the writing of this story, I recall a forum in which state regulators were trying to predict the problems for which they would need to be on the lookout. They eventually concluded that tech-based fundraising mechanisms would come to present a whole new set of ethical and legal problems they could not fully anticipate. So it goes.—Ruth McCambridge