Florida opens investigation on WeBuildTheWall campaign to construct barrier at southern border

Posted at 5:30 AM, Jun 06, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida is now investigating an online campaign that’s raised more than $23 million to build a southern border wall.

WeBuildTheWall, Inc., a Panama City-based nonprofit, has caught the attention of the nation but also the Department of Ag and Consumer Services.

A spokesperson with the department said investigators started looking at the charity, May 17. That was following a handful of complaints from people across the country, concerned the group isn’t doing what it says it is.

“As this matter is now an active investigation, the Department cannot comment further,” said the spokesperson in a brief statement. “No additional information is available at this time.”

Wendy Tien was one of the complainants. She’s an assistant attorney general in Minnesota, but notified Florida authorities of her concerns outside of her professional role.

Tien worried donors may not realize the charity has only applied for a 501(c)(4) status— meaning donations aren’t deductible. She also says it’s hard to tell what WeBuildTheWall is actually doing with its funding.

“That’s not really how it works under tax-exempt law,” she said. “You’re supposed to be accountable for the use of the money, so, the public knows whether any private individual benefited.

The viral effort was started by a wounded Iraq War veteran, Brian Kolfage, late last year. Money is being used to privately build border wall segments on private land.

Just this weekend, the group celebrated completion of its first segment of wall in New Mexico.

Calls to the nonprofit for comment on the investigation weren’t immediately returned.

Kolfage’s effort was originally created to gift the government money for the wall. He has since tried to shift the dollars to the nonprofit after failing to meet a billion-dollar goal and finding out government donations wouldn’t have likely gone directly to construction, instead ending up in a general fund.

Donors have had the chance to opt out of the change, though WeBuildTheWall said in a recent news release more than 90% decided to keep their donations in place.