Veteran’s border wall fundraiser falls apart as GoFundMe says $20M will be refunded

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Turns out an Air Force veteran is having just as much trouble funding a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico as President Donald Trump.

GoFundMe said on Friday it will refund over $20 million in donations to a campaign started by veteran Brian Kolfage last year after he changed course on where the money would be donated. The campaign earned a massive amount of attention — and just as many donations.

Kolfage started the campaign on Dec. 16 and touted it as a way to raise money to build a wall along the southern border as Trump struggled to secure the necessary $5 billion he was targeting in a spending bill. The government has now been shut down for a record 22 days over the impasse between the president and the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.

“Eight days before Christmas I started this GoFundMe campaign because I was tired of watching the U.S. government’s inability to secure our southern border,” Kolfage wrote on the campaign’s page Friday. “Like most Americans, I see the porous southern border as a national security threat and I refuse to allow our broken political system to leave my family and my country vulnerable to attack.”

PHOTO: In this Nov. 10, 2014, file photo, former U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Brian Kolfage, center, sits in a wheelchair next to his wife Ashley, right, during the National September 11 Memorial and Museums Salute to Service tribute.AP
In this Nov. 10, 2014, file photo, former U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Brian Kolfage, center, sits in a wheelchair next to his wife Ashley, right, during the National September 11 Memorial and Museum’s “Salute to Service” tribute.

The campaign, titled “We The People Will Build the Wall,” had raised $20,240,198 as of early Saturday. Over 330,000 people had donated to the cause, with nine people giving over $10,000 and one person giving $50,000.

But Kolfage also announced on Friday he was suddenly stepping back from donating the money straight to the U.S. government — a promise it wasn’t exactly clear he could complete — and instead funneling the money to a new nonprofit he started called “We Build the Wall, Inc.”

The switch broke GoFundMe’s donation rules and prompted the refund offer.

“There was a change in the use of funds,” Bobby Whithorne, director of North America Communications for GoFundMe, told ABC News in a statement. “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.’ 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,” the statement continued. “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.”

PHOTO: In this May 31, 2006, file photo, a man climbs over the international border into Nogales, Ariz., from Nogales, Mexico.AP
In this May 31, 2006, file photo, a man climbs over the international border into Nogales, Ariz., from Nogales, Mexico.

Whithorne said all donors will be contacted via email about receiving their refund.

Kolfage, who was severely wounded in Iraq in 2004 and is a triple amputee, was still soliciting funds on Friday. He acknowledged the government would not be able to accept the donations “anytime soon,” and said his nonprofit was “better equipped than our own government to use the donated funds to build an actual wall on the southern border.”

The nonprofit’s board includes controversial former sheriff and regular Fox News guest David Clarke, private government security company Blackwater USA founder Erik Prince, and former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who oversaw Trump’s dud voter fraud commission.

The border wall campaign is the second high-profile fundraiser to end in refunds in a matter of months. A homeless man and couple in Philadelphia were all arrested and charged in connection to creating a rouse to elicit over $400,000 in donations late last year.

The couple allegedly blew much of the money on vacations and gambling, and the scheme was exposed when the homeless man sued over not receiving the money.

ABC News’ Chris Francescani contributed to this report.



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