Image courtesy of Casino via Wikimedia Commons

September 26, 2019; Fox News, USA Today

The nonprofit Whistleblower Aid has set up a GoFundMe page to raise legal funds for the whistleblower in the midst of the presidential impeachment firestorm. This individual brought the complaint about President Donald Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The initial goal was $100,000; fundraising now exceeds $180,000, while the goal has been increased to $250,000.. Thousands of donors are giving in small amounts every few minutes.

Who is Whistleblower Aid, the nonprofit that started this grassroots fundraising campaign? They “help clients safely, lawfully and responsibly report questionable government and corporate activity.” The organization was founded by John Tye, who worked for the National Security Agency (NSA) from 2011 to 2014 before becoming a whistleblower himself to expose the NSA’s use of a legal loophole during the Obama administration to collect, store, and search Americans’ emails, phone calls and online communications without a warrant.

Legal counsel, according to the GoFundMe page, is provided by Andrew Bakaj and Mark Zaid. The page claims that before forming his own legal group, Bakaj “literally wrote the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] and Pentagon rules prohibiting retaliation against whistleblowers.”

Whistleblower Aid doesn’t charge the client unless they recover a monetary award. The organization provides “assistance to individuals in the United States or abroad who want to disclose illegal conduct,” including misconduct relating to:

  • The United States government or federal officials
  • Securities fraud by corporate officers, investment advisors, or stockbrokers
  • Foreign governments or their representatives
  • Local or state governments, including police and prosecutors
  • Violations of the tax, labor, or environmental laws
  • Sexual violence or harassment
  • Organized crime, human trafficking, and mass atrocities

The whistleblower alleges that Trump solicited a foreign government official to interfere in a US election, a flagrantly illegal act that moved the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to start an impeachment inquiry. (You can read NPQ’s impeachment primer here.) Whistleblowers often uncover issues that signify “David vs. Goliath” struggles, where one person speaks the truth against interests of an institution to maintain the status quo.

NPQ‘s reporting on nonprofits and whistleblowers includes writing on a nonprofit official blowing the whistle on alleged financial improprieties at a New Mexico state commission and a mention of the nonprofit Government Accountability Project, which protected the whistleblower on the United Nations’ role in obscuring atrocities and failing to protect civilians in Darfur.

The latter article, by the late Rick Cohen, describes bravery of individuals who are willing to “risk all for the sake of speaking the truth,” connecting the importance of what they do to nonprofits who protect them. The National Whistleblower Center’s website claims to have advocated for whistleblowers since 1988.

The immediate response to the GoFundMe campaign signifies the extent to which members of the public identify with the cause of the whistleblower. As economic inequality reaches its highest level in 50 years and the Supreme Court sides more often with corporations, nonprofits that protect whistleblowers have big jobs to do. We hope to see collaboration instead of competition among nonprofits with similar missions.—Kori Kanayama