GoFundMe said Friday that it would be returning more than $20 million in donations meant to help finance the "Trump Wall" between the United States and Mexico after the effort fell short of its $1 billion goal. But the campaign's organizer said donors can redirect their contributions to a nonprofit that plans to begin work on portions of its own border wall - with or without help from the government.
The viral campaign was launched last month by 37-year-old Brian Kolfage, a triple amputee who received a Purple Heart while serving in Iraq. His concept was simple: If each of the 63 million people who voted for Trump gave $80, they could reach his $5 billion mark. He felt $1 billion would be a good starting point, he added.
On Friday, however, Kolfage updated the page to say organizers had concluded that the federal government wouldn't be able to accept the donation, which had grown to more than $20 million. Instead, he created a Florida-based nonprofit named "We Build the Wall, Inc." to take on the 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 on the page. "Our team strongly believes that we can complete our segments of the wall for less than half of the government's estimated costs on a per-mile basis."
The partial government shutdown, spurred by President Donald Trump's demand for more than $5 billion for the wall, became the longest in history over the weekend. Kolfage told The Washington Post on Saturday that he realized the Democratic-controlled House was unlikely to pass a bill approving construction of the wall, hindering his plans to give the money directly to the Trump administration.
Kolfage said donors have expressed that they still want to see their money go toward a wall, however, which he said prompted him to create the nonprofit organization. His team determined that the wall could be built for $2 million to $3 million per mile, he said. Some of the donations would also be used to pay private landowners at the border to allow construction on their property.
"When Americans see us completing real miles of beautiful wall, we know that we will raise the many billions we need to finally secure the entire border," Kolfage wrote to supporters on his GoFundMe page. "I am 100% committed to secure our southern border and protect Americans."
GoFundMe spokesman Bobby Whithorne said the refund was initiated because of Kolfage's promise that he would return funds to donors if the campaign couldn't reach $1 billion.
"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 wrote. "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.'"
Donors will automatically receive a refund unless they manually redirect their donation to go to Kolfage's nonprofit, Whithorne added. They will also be contacted via email about the change.
More than 300,000 people have contributed to the campaign that launched Dec. 16, and the donations continued well into Saturday.
Kolfage said he hasn't reached out to the Trump administration about his plans to begin building a private wall.
"We have not been in contact with them about their wall, but I think it's pretty obvious that they don't have anything," he told The Post. "[Democrats] are not going to allow Trump to have that victory, so the wall's not going to happen, so that's why we're doing this."
This article was written by Michael Brice-Saddler, a reporter for The Washington Post.