Donors who sent checks must wait for re­funds

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Elise Schmelzer

While peo­ple who do­nated on­line to the GoFundMe rais­ing money for a wall along the south­ern bor­der will be re­funded their money au­to­mat­i­cally, donors who mailed checks to a Cas­tle Rock UPS store will have to wait for a let­ter in the mail be­fore they can ask for their money back or opt into an ef­fort to pri­vately build the wall.

The orig­i­nal fundraiser, or­ga­nized by Flor­ida-based Brian Kolfage, aimed to raise $1 bil­lion to do­nate to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for the con­struc­tion of a bor­der wall. It of­fered those who did not want to do­nate on­line the op­tion of mail­ing their checks to Cas­tle Rock, where Kolfage’s un­named busi­ness as­so­ciates would re­trieve them.

But Kolfage, a con­ser­va­tive pun­dit, changed the pur­pose of the fundraiser Fri­day and said the money in­stead would be sent to his new non­profit that aims to build parts of a wall with­out the gov­ern­ment’s help. The change in pur­pose prompted GoFundMe to start au­to­mat­i­cally re­fund­ing donors’ money and alert them via email of the change, though donors can choose on­line to not re­ceive a re­fund and in­stead send their money to the non­profit.

But those who do­nated via mail will have to wait. Kolfage said in an email to The Den­ver Post on Sun­day that ev­ery per­son who sent a do­na­tion via check will re­ceive a let­ter in the mail giv­ing them the op­tion to send their money to the new non­profit or get a re­fund.

“We are mail­ing ev­ery snail mail donor a let­ter in the mail and up­dat­ing them our new big plans to build the wall, and if they want a re­fund for not meet­ing our $1 bil­lion goal yet, which we will, we will al­low them to back out of the deal as I promised to all donors,” he wrote.

Kolfage said he didn’t know ex­actly how many peo­ple had mailed do­na­tions or how much money had been raised via the checks be­cause “we are still pro­cess­ing the mail.” He ex­pects to hear back from all mail donors within the next two weeks.

The pop­u­lar fundrais­ing com­pany de­cided to re­fund the money be­cause the cam­paign did not meet its fund­ing goal and changed the desti­na­tion of the money, GoFundMe spokesman Bobby Whithorne said in an email to The Den­ver Post. The orig­i­nal cam­paign in­for­ma­tion also said all money would be re­funded if the goal was not met, Whithorne said.

“This means all donors will re­ceive a re­fund,” Whithorne wrote. “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.”

GoFundMe did not re­spond to ques­tions Sun­day about whether the com­pany has any over­sight over mailed do­na­tions.

While Kolfage raised more than $20 mil­lion in less than a month, the fundraiser was more than $979 mil­lion short of its $1 bil­lion goal as of Sun­day af­ter­noon. Hun­dreds of peo­ple con­tin­ued to do­nate to the page on­line Sun­day.

Kolfage re­futed the idea that GoFundMe was re­fund­ing donors’ money in an email to The Den­ver Post, de­spite writ­ing on the fundraiser’s web­site on Jan. 11 that “we will promptly re­fund your do­na­tion un­less you tell us you ap­prove our new plan for ac­tion.”

“That’s a lie,” he wrote Sun­day. “They are not re­fund­ing ev­ery­one’s money. Stop re­port­ing the fake news.”

The new it­er­a­tion of the GoFundMe no longer lists the Cas­tle Rock ad­dress for mail do­na­tions and in­stead states checks should be sent to a post of­fice box in Hous­ton.

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