Air Force veteran changes focus of 'We The People Will Build the Wall' crowdfunding initiative
By JIM THOMPSON | The Northwest Florida Daily News | Published: January 22, 2019
MIRAMAR BEACH, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — The retired triple-amputee Air Force senior airman behind a GoFundMe campaign to help the federal government build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border has changed the campaign's focus, forming a nonprofit organization to privately fund and build a border wall.
Brian Kolfage lost both legs and his right arm during a 2004 rocket attack in Iraq, where he was serving with Air Force security forces. Two years ago, he and his family moved into a Miramar Beach home provided to them through the Gary Sinise Foundation and the Veterans United Foundation.
Kolfage, who has not responded to numerous Daily News requests for an interview over the past few weeks, set up his wall-funding campaign on GoFundMe just before Christmas. His plan then was to raise $1 billion to help build a border wall.
President Donald Trump is seeking nearly $6 billion in tax dollars for wall construction, a request that is at the center of an ongoing impasse with Congress that has shut down part of the federal government.
As of Monday, Kolfage's campaign had raised more than $20 million. But since Jan. 11, funds have gone to the refocused effort to privately pursue wall construction.
Donors who contributed prior to Jan. 11 must "opt-in" to the new effort, or their donations will be refunded within 90 days, according to the reconfigured GoFundMe page. Kolfage has said recently that he's been given permission to transfer $7 million of pre-Jan. 11 donations to the new effort.
Kolfage shifted strategy after consulting with people he called "some of our country's leading professionals in law, politics, national security, construction, and finance." Their conclusions, Kolfage explains on GoFundMe, are that the "federal government won't be able to accept our donations anytime soon," and that the public is "better equipped than our own government to use the donated funds to build an actual wall on the southern border."
GoFundMe contributions now go to a Florida-based nonprofit corporation, WeBuildTheWall, Inc. The articles of incorporation were filed with Florida's Secretary of State on Dec. 28. A listing of the nonprofit's initial officers and directors has Kolfage as president and sole officer.
WeBuildTheWall, Inc., is organized under Section 501(c)4 of the federal Internal Revenue Code, and according to the papers filed with the state, has been organized for purposes "including but not limited to funding, construction, administering and maintaining a United States Southern Border Wall and the processes associated therewith."
In addition to Kolfage, the We Build the Wall website lists an advisory board and members of a number of committees addressing financing, construction, media and fundraising. Kolfage has indicated via social media that he is taking no salary or other compensation for his work on the wall project.
Listed on the website are John Daniel Moran, Jr., president and CEO of logistics company Moran Industries; retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert S. Spalding III, a national security policy strategist; Erik Prince, former Navy SEAL and founder of the Blackwater USA security firm; former Republican Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo; former Milwaukee County (Wisconsin) Sheriff David Clarke; former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach; Mary Ann Mendoza, whose son died after his police car was hit by an illegal immigrant; Steve Ronnebeck, whose son was fatally shot by an illegal immigrant; Tea Party organizer Dustin Stockton; conservative political strategist Tiffiny Ruegner, media liaison and journalist Jennifer Lawrence and Amanda Shea, a social media director.
As a tax-exempt 501(c)4 "social welfare" nonprofit, WeBuildTheWall, Inc. could engage in lobbying. According to the Internal Revenue Service, "Seeking legislation germane to the organization's programs is a permissible means of attaining social welfare purposes," and such a nonprofit "may further its exempt purposes through lobbying as its primary activity ... ."
While Kolfage hasn't responded to interview requests, his social media have provided some hints of what he's been doing. On Sunday, for instance, Kolfage noted on Facebook and Twitter that he and others in the campaign "have a huge week ahead of us! Traveling to Texas to meet with landowners and border officials with our construction committee. ..."
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