$20 million raised in GoFundMe for Trump border wall to be refunded

GoFundMe said Friday that it would refund $20 million raised by more than 300,000 donors for President TrumpDonald John TrumpAlaska Republican Party cancels 2020 primary Ukrainian official denies Trump pressured president Trump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: 'They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!' MORE's border wall after an account aiming to raise $1 billion for the wall changed part of its campaign.

Brian Kolfage, the veteran who created the account last month, originally pledged that “every single penny” would be refunded if the original goal had not been met. He updated the page on Friday, saying that the federal government would not be able to accept the $20 million soon.

ADVERTISEMENT

While Kolfage said money donated to the original campaign would go to the government to fund a border wall, he wrote Friday that he has since formed a nonprofit corporation in Florida named “We Build the Wall, Inc.” to receive the GoFundMe contributions.

“We are better equipped than our own government to use the donated funds to build an actual wall on the southern border,” Kolfage wrote. “Our highly experienced team is highly confident that we can complete significant segments of the wall in less time, and for far less money, than the federal government, while meeting or exceeding all required regulatory, engineering, and environmental specifications.”

The page now states that the funds raised will be used “in the execution of our mission and purpose” for his new created nonprofit. 

“To honor the commitment, we made to our donors; all funds raised, less the processing fees and refunds, will be transferred to a special purpose account to carry out the purposes and mission of We Build the Wall, Inc.,” Kolfage wrote. “I will personally not take a penny of compensation from these donations.” 

Since the original intent of the campaign’s promise has changed, GoFundMe said in a statement that the more than 337,000 people who donated will receive a refund.

“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,’ ” GoFundMe spokesperson Bobby Whithorne told The Hill on Friday. “He also stated on the campaign page, ‘100% 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,” Whithorne continued. “If a donor does not want a refund, and they want their donation to go to the new organization, they must proactively elect to redirect their donation to that organization. If they do not take that step, they will automatically receive a full refund.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Kolfage, a triple amputee and Purple Heart recipient, spearheaded the crowdfunding campaign last month shortly before a partial government shutdown was triggered on Dec. 22 over Trump’s demand for border wall funding. 

The campaign quickly went viral, earning more than $11.5 million from more than 189,700 donors in four days.

Reports of Kolfage’s past business ventures started surfacing as the campaign gained national attention, including his alleged history of running sites that promoted conspiracy theories and racist content. 

A recent business venture, Right Wing News, was reportedly removed from Facebook in October when the social media giant scrubbed roughly 500 pages it said used fake accounts “to drive traffic to their websites” or “were ad farms using Facebook to mislead people into thinking that they were forums for legitimate political debate.”

A BuzzFeed News investigation published Thursday found that Kolfage allegedly pocketed money donated to a previous GoFundMe account he started for wounded veterans. 

Whithorne confirmed to BuzzFeed that Kolfage in 2015 launched a GoFundMe that raised $16,246 under the premise that the money would go to a veteran mentorship program. Whitorne said the money went directly to Kolfage

Kolfage claimed in now-deleted Facebook posts that he was working with Walter Reed, Brooke Army Medical Center and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center to turn over the donated money. 

“We do not have a record of Mr. Kolfage visiting Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in any official capacity after 2012,” Gia Oney, chief of public affairs at Landstuhl, told the online outlet. “We have no record of a donation made in his name to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.”

Lindsay Lowery, an employee at one of Kolfage's largest conservative news websites in 2017, told the outlet that her former boss appeared to be aiming to boost his public persona. 

“After I started challenging some of his business decisions that I felt were reckless for the company and for my career, the real Brian emerged,” Lowery said. “Everything is only about his ‘war hero’ persona and money. If there’s a perceived slight on his part, he viciously attacks people ... and, in my case, tries to destroy their life and livelihood.”