One of the biggest stories in politics right now is the battle over funding for the new wall along our border with Mexico. The president wants money to build the wall and help protect us from illegal immigration; the Democratic Party seems determined to keep the border open, and is willing to shut down the government to do it. Private citizens have stepped up to help find the money, with a GoFundMe started by a veteran already having raised close to $20 million. The question is, if ordinary Americans donate money to build the wall, is the government allowed to spend it on the wall?
- The controversy started in mid-December when Brian Kolfage, a US Air Force veteran and triple amputee, started a GoFundMe page with the goal of raising $1 billion to help pay for the wall. In its first week the appeal raised about $10 million; it’s now standing at $19.3 million – and almost all of it has been small donations, just ordinary people contributing a few dollars each.
- Kolfrage says that if everyone who voted for President Trump donates an average of $80, that will raise about $5 billion – enough to build the whole wall without relying on government money.
- Some people are questioning if that’s possible, though. If private citizens donate money to the government, can the government use it to pay for a specific project, or does it have to go into general revenue along with our taxes – in which case, Congress can prevent it being used for the wall? In fact some people are even asking if the government can accept donations at all.
- To start with, the government can accept donations. This happens all the time – people decide they’re willing to pay more tax than they need to, and make an extra payment to the IRS. Of course, this goes into general revenue.
- It is also possible to donate funds for a specific project. In 2012 the Washington Monument was damaged by an earthquake. A billionaire put up $7.5 million – half the total cost of repairs. The National park Service was happy to take his money and use it for what he wanted it spent on.
- Donating GFM money to the wall might be a bit more complicated, but it shouldn’t be impossible. In case anyone tries to obstruct it, Representative Steve Palazzo (R-Miss.) has introduced the Border Bonds for America Act, specifically designed to allow crowdfunding to pay for the wall. If that’s passed, Kolfage’s GFM money could be used to buy bonds and pay for the wall that way.