The organizers of a GoFundMe campaign to fund the construction of a wall along the southern US border have scrapped plans to hand $20m over to the federal government and plan to build the wall privately instead.
“The federal government won’t be able to accept our donations anytime soon,” organizers said in a Friday update for the campaign which by Saturday afternoon had raised more than $20.3m from nearly 340,000 donors.
Saturday was day 22 of the government shutdown arising from Donald Trump’s demand for federal funds to build a wall, the longest such closure in US history with no end in sight.
“We are better equipped than our own government to use the donated funds to build an actual wall on the southern border,” the organizers said.
Because organizers changed the nature of their campaign, GoFundMe said donors would have to opt-in in order to reroute their contribution to the new venture. That is likely to shrink the impressive eight-figure pot, at least in the short term.
GoFundMe’s director of North America communications, Bobby Whithorne, told the Guardian: “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.’”
The original goal was $1bn. That is less than 20% of the government’s proposed price tag for the wall but, more importantly, the sum raised is just 2% of that original target.
Whithorne noted that organizers had also promised that “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,” he said. “This means all donors will receive a refund. 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.”
The GoFundMe page now contains a link to opt-in to the new project and supporters have received an email. Donors who do not act will have their money refunded. Brian Kolfage, the chief organizer of the campaign, railed against reports that the wall plan had been canceled or that all $20m was being refunded.
“What an awesome 1st day,” he said in a tweet. “GoFundMe said everyone is opting in to our new plan at a rate they’ve never seen! Your donations are making all this possible!”
GoFundMe did not immediately respond to a query about Kolfage’s claim about the success of the opt-in push.
According to the updated page, Trump allies on the new nonprofit’s advisory board include the controversial former Wisconsin sheriff David Clarke, the Blackwater/XE/Academi founder Erik Prince, and the Kansas secretary of state, Kris Kobach, who confirmed his involvement in a tweet.
NBC News has reported that Kolfage’s wall campaign may be aimed at a broader goal: collecting an email contact database for fundraising around other conservative issues and possibly commercial uses.
In October last year, Facebook disabled several of Kolfage’s Facebook pages – along with many others on both the left and right – for “coordinated inauthentic behavior” and “spamming”.
Kolfage did not immediately respond to a request for comment.