A GoFundMe campaign to raise money for President Donald Trump’s border wall has surpassed fundraisers for the victims of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash and Parkland, Fla. school shooting to become the highest-grossing GoFundMe venture ever.
But it appears highly unlikely that the money can actually be put towards the stated purpose.
The “We the People Will Fund the Wall” campaign was started by U.S. Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage, who lost an arm and both legs while deployed in Iraq and was awarded a Purple Heart in 2004.
Kolfage said he wants to raise $1 billion to help fund the wall because, “Too many Americans have been murdered by illegal aliens and too many illegals are taking advantage of the United States taxpayers with no means of ever contributing to our society.”
He says he’s operating the fund in case the wall doesn’t get funded by the government — the stalemate over funding for the wall has led to a partial government shutdown, with Democrats unwilling to approve the amount of money sought by Trump to fulfil his campaign promise.
WATCH: Partial government shutdown could end if Trump abandons demand for border wall funding, says Chuck Schumer
Kolfage’s campaign has raised over $16.2 million as of Sunday, Dec. 23 — only six days after it went live. The highest donation was $50,000 from an anonymous donor.
By comparison, the fundraiser for victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting garnered $10.1 million in 10 months. The Humboldt Broncos bus crash victims campaign raised $11.2 million (CAD $15.1 million) in 12 days.
However, both those campaigns had legal backing in ways that the border wall fundraiser doesn’t.
The Parkland victims’ campaign was spearheaded by the Broward Education Foundation, the official fundraising arm of the Broward County Public Schools system. The Humboldt Broncos campaign was set up by a private citizen but was backed by the Humboldt Broncos Memorial Fund and approved by a judge in Saskatoon.
WATCH: Humboldt Broncos GoFundMe payments approved by Saskatoon judge
According to the U.S. Treasury Department, private donations to the federal government are directed to a “gifts” fund and set aside for “general use” or put towards “budget needs.”
However, such donations are considered “unconditional gifts to the government,” meaning donors don’t have a legal right to demand that the money be directed towards specific agencies or projects.
Chapter 1 of the U.S. Code states that the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees America’s borders, can only access gifted funds if Congress passes a bill specifically appropriating the monies to the agency, according to Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute.
Kolfage claims that he has this covered.
On his GoFundMe page, he pointed to Republican Rep. Warren Davidson’s bill, HR 7202, which aims to allow the Secretary of the Treasury to “accept public donations to fund the construction of a barrier on the border between the United States and Mexico” — but the bill also adds that donations could be used “for other purposes.”
Kolfage says the bill guarantees that funds will be put towards the wall “with our contractual guarantee.” But there’s nothing in the text of the bill that states this.
What’s more, the bill, which was introduced in the House of Representatives on Nov. 30, is yet to even make it past committee.
A similar bill, introduced last year by Republican Rep. Diane Black, failed to pass muster.
Kolfage has claimed to have “high-level contacts” in the Trump administration who are working to ensure that the $1 billion, if raised, will be put towards building the U.S.-Mexico border wall.
He also says the campaign is working with a law firm and can guarantee that “100% of your donations will go to the Trump Wall.”
GoFundMe’s terms of service prohibit not using funds for their stated purpose, which means that if the Department of Homeland Security is unable to accept the donations as expected, Kolfage will have to refund his donors.
In addition to his exploits with the military, Kolfage is also known for being involved with websites with a track record of publishing fake news stories and conspiracy theories.
As of Dec. 23, 2018, Kolfage is listed as a strategist with RightWing.News, which posted several false stories about Christine Blasey Ford, who accused U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, the New York Times reported.
The website previously claimed — falsely — that former president Barack Obama ordered military personnel to not wear their uniforms at recruitment centres, according to Snopes.
NBC reported that Kolfage also ran an affiliated website called FreedomDaily, which was shut down after it was sued by a man who was falsely identified by the site as the driver of the car that plowed into people protesting against a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Kolfage told NBC that he didn’t reveal his involvement with the websites on the GoFundMe campaign page because he “didn’t want it to be a distraction.”