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GOP Lawmakers Demand GoFundMe Give Back Money it Already Promised to Refund

The controversy stems from GoFundMe's decision to shut down a viral campaign protesting Canada's vaccine requirements for truckers.

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Truckers and supporters protest against mandates and restrictions related to Covid-19 vaccines in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on February 5, 2022.
Truckers and supporters protest against mandates and restrictions related to Covid-19 vaccines in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on February 5, 2022.
Photo: Dave Chan/AFP (Getty Images)

In a cycle of self-righteous indignation that’s become all too familiar at this point, GOP lawmakers are calling for fraud investigations into GoFundMe after it took down a fundraising effort for an anti-vaccine mandate protest in Canada. Granted, the popular crowdfunding platform already said it would refund all donations, but that detail is significantly less conducive to riling up idiots on Twitter.

It all stems back to the self-described Freedom Convoy 2022, a movement that began as a protest to Canada’s vaccine requirements for cross-border truckers that has since evolved into a catch-all rallying point for a slew of conservative talking points. Support from prominent conservative figures, including former President Donald Trump, helped to fuel the movement’s virality. GoFundMe shut down the movement’s fundraising page on Friday after it raised more than $9 million, determining it had violated the platform’s terms of service against promoting violence and harassment in the wake of several concerning police reports about a Freedom Convoy protest in Ottawa, Canada.

At the time, the company said donors had until February 19 to request to receive a full refund. Any remaining funds after that date would be distributed to verified charities chosen by the Freedom Convoy 2022 organizers. Less than 24 hours later, GoFundMe announced it was revising its original plan in response to “donor feedback,” and that all donations will be automatically refunded.

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“To simplify the process for our users, we will be refunding all donations to the Freedom Convoy 2022 fundraiser,” GoFundMe tweeted Saturday. “This refund will happen automatically — you do not need to submit a request. Donors can expect to see refunds within 7-10 business days.”

However, that hasn’t stopped right-wing figures from calling for GoFundMe’s head. Over the weekend, several prominent conservatives issued statements urging their supporters to boycott the crowdfunding platform and demanding that state and federal lawmakers investigate the company for fraud.

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A few officials even heeded the call. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said he plans to consult with his state’s attorney general to look into the matter.

“I will work with [Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody] to investigate these deceptive practices — these donors should be given a refund,” he said Saturday on Twitter. He also appeared to falsely accuse GoFundMe of pocketing the fundraiser’s $9 million in donations to support “causes of their own choosing.”

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That same day, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced he had assembled a team to investigate GoFundMe’s “potential fraud and deception,” tweeting that “Texas donors will get Justice!”

Of course, these statements came hours after GoFundMe had already announced it would issue refunds to all donors automatically. Critics also conveniently glossed over the fact that GoFundMe never threatened to withhold anyone’s donations to begin with; contributors were just initially required to file a refund request form to get their money back.

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GoFundMe booted the Freedom Convoy’s campaign from its platform after Ottawa police said incidents of “threatening” and “illegal” behavior by demonstrators had prompted numerous criminal investigations, the Washington Post reports. According to local authorities, demonstrators were seen harassing people at a homeless shelter, piling into small businesses without wearing face masks, defacing an Ottawa war memorial, and waving racist flags.

In a blog post explaining its decision, GoFundMe said that following “multiple discussions with local law enforcement and city officials,” it determined the demonstrations funded by the campaign had broken its rules prohibiting the promotion of violence and harassment. The Ottawa police department thanked GoFundMe for listening to its concerns in a tweet posted Friday:

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“The decision to withhold funding for these unlawful demonstrations is an important step and we call on all crowdfunding sites to follow.”

Prior to shutting down the page on Friday, GoFundMe came under fire for continuing to host the Freedom Convoy campaign on its platform as Ottawa law enforcement made it clear that demonstrators at the Canadian capital were quickly spiraling out of control. Earlier this week, GoFundMe paused the campaign pending review, but ultimately found it was still compliant with its terms of service — a decision it would reverse just a few days later.