Amid unrest, Black Lives Matter and other social justice groups see fundraising windfall

Unprecedented surge of donations going toward associated groups

As protests over police brutality and racial injustice have escalated in recent weeks, the mounting pressure of public opinion has led both parties in Congress to draft their own reform bills, states and local governments to tear down statues perceived as racist, places like Washington, D.C. to fast-track police reform legislation and some officials to even consider dismantling their police departments.

With this upheaval has come an unprecedented surge of donations to organizations and causes associated with the social justice movement, including Black Lives Matter groups and others.

One GoFundMe page associated with the Black Lives Matter Los Angeles chapter had been in existence since 2018 and as of the beginning of June had raised about $615,000. In less than four weeks, it's skyrocketed to over $2.4 million.

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And The National Bail Fund Network, which essentially serves as a directory for local groups that help disadvantaged people afford bail, has seen its organizations raise more than $75 million in recent weeks, according to a spokesperson. In a three-week period, that spokesperson says, "many individual bail funds have seen an increase of 100-200 times last year's annual fundraising amount."

Some of the funds associated with the network, having their needs met for the foreseeable future by the outpouring of support, have asked people to stop giving to them and instead give to other causes.

GoFundMe, the popular fundraising platform, has also been at the center of the movement, connecting the citizens eager to support a cause to the organizations working to change a system they see as unjust.

A GoFundMe spokesman said that it still doesn't have a number for how much has been donated to racial justice and police reform causes, but "we've definitely seen an outpouring of support on GoFundMe for a diverse range of causes that are focused on racial justice and equality."

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"These fundraisers range from those helping the victims and families of injustice, to those supporting protestors, to those created by and for organizations focused on driving change, to those helping at the community level," the spokesman said.

One fundraiser has garnered more than $200,000 for Texas State student Gregory Arellano, whose skull was fractured by a rubber bullet during a protest in Austin, Texas, according to the fundraiser's page. Another for a bail fund associated with Black Lives Matter Charleston has pulled in more than $100,000.

The money isn't just coming in through GoFundMe, either. ActBlue is an online small-dollar fundraising platform used by Democratic political candidates and organizations, and other progressive groups, which collects a processing fee in exchange for providing a centralized way for these organizations to raise money.

Between May 28 and June 26, ActBlue processed approximately $371 million, according to the ticker on its website, for a range of candidates and causes, not just those tied to social justice groups. But while the platform doesn't break down how much went to individual groups, the death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis police custody appeared to precede an overall surge in donations. By comparison, the site processed $141 million in April and $178 million in May, which was its fifth-highest fundraising month since ActBlue was founded in 2004.

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The outpouring of support has even helped those who were hurt when protests sometimes turned into riots. One GoFundMe fundraiser raised more than $1 million for a black-owned sports bar in Minneapolis that was first hurt by the coronavirus and then later looted and vandalized in late May.

But the fundraising windfall hasn't been without its controversies, either.

Many people, seeking to support the Black Lives Matter movement, went onto platforms like GoFundMe and gave to the first verified charity with Black Lives Matter in the name that they could find. For many, that was the Black Lives Matter Foundation, a group based out of California whose "mission is to help survivors and families that have suffered from the loss of a relative or loved one as a result of an unjust or questionable police shooting, and use our unique and creative ideas to help bring the police and the community closer together to save lives."

But the foundation is not affiliated with the Black Lives Matter Global Network, which is widely recognized as the official central organization for the movement.

Buzzfeed story first flagged the distinction. The foundation, for one, is not as aggressive on the issue of overhauling police as the Global Network, which has advocated for reducing funding for police; its official Washington, D.C. chapter has advocated to "defund" the police and framed the current moment as "The Police vs The People."

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According to Buzzfeed, millions had been raised for the Black Lives Matter Foundation, some of which has been frozen by platforms like GoFundMe -- as they consider diverting the funds elsewhere.

"GoFundMe utilizes PayPal Giving Fund's database to enable people to fundraise for a charity," GoFundMe said in a statement. "180 campaigns have recently raised money for the Black Lives Matter Foundation, raising $350,000. GoFundMe placed all funds on hold and we are working with PayPal and the campaign organizers to ensure the money raised is transferred to the Black Lives Matter movement via their fiscal sponsor."

Foundation leader Robert Ray Barnes confirmed that he had nothing to do with Black Lives Matter Global Network and said that, despite insinuations he's tried to take advantage of his group's name with donors, he doesn't want anyone's money "that came to me that did not support the kinds of things that we do."

He added in a statement to Fox News: "The overall goal of Black Lives Matter Foundation is to comprehensively improve and elevate the lives of Black and Brown people. We want the public to understand that all of Black life matters and mustn’t be reduced to just Black and Brown interactions with law enforcement... Consequently, when we focus only on the interactions with the police, we lessen the importance and significance of all the other issues that require attention, or that 'matters' as it relates to the overall well-being of members of Black and Brown communities."

The Buzzfeed story quoted a Black Lives Matter Global Network spokesperson as saying Barnes' organization is "improperly using our name." But Barnes' organization has existed longer than the Black Lives Matter Global Network.

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Black Lives Matter Global Network did not respond to questions sent by Fox News for this report.

Past IRS documents indicate that the Black Lives Matter Foundation had not spent much of the money it's raised, but Barnes says that more recently he has worked with programs in Los Angeles that help the homeless and the Peaceful Warriors Foundation in Michigan.

Additionally, Barnes confirmed reports that he did receive a cease and desist order for his organization from California, and said his group is "currently working with and is in constant contact with the California Charitable Trust Section to correct the record and differentiate ourselves from the other 'for profit organizations,' which we expect to have resolved in the first couple weeks of July."

The Black Lives Matter Global Network has not escaped scrutiny. It's not technically a registered charity with the IRS, and therefore raises money through its fiscal sponsor, Thousand Currents. The Washington Examiner reported Thursday that Alicia Garza, a co-founder of the global network, has said that cop-killer Assata Shakur is an inspiration to her. And Susan Rosenberg, who sits on the board of Thousand Currents, has been convicted of domestic terrorism, though was granted clemency by former President Bill Clinton.

And as with any large and unexpected influx of money to such a decentralized set of hands, there is a chance that some of it will be misspent -- though there have been no such allegations related to the rush of cash to activist groups this month.

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For its part, The National Bail Fund Network says that money donated to its groups will be "used to bail people out of jail as that is what bail funds do and that was clear when people donated."

Its spokesperson slammed the current pretrial bail system, which it also advocates against on the grounds that it is not fair to disadvantaged populations.

"Our current criminal justice system incarcerates hundreds of thousands of people every year for their inability to pay money bail," the spokesperson said. "As long as the pretrial detention and money bail system exist, community bail funds exist to get people free."

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