After raising more than $400,000 for Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, supporters halted donations on a GoFundMe page Saturday to strategize how to use that money without violating tax rules for non-profits.
Representative Jeff Roorda tells Daily RFT he's trying to determine whether Shield of Hope, the organization managing the donations, is legally allowed to spend the funds on Wilson's legal defense since it is a registered 501c3 nonprofit. Most donors expected their money to pay for lawyers, legal fees and other expenses related to Wilson's prosecution, Roorda says.
"If we find money was donated to the Shield of Hope's GoFundMe and it can't be used for the express purpose it was intended for, we will return it," says Roorda, one of the officials listed on the nonprofit's state records, along with Ferguson police officer Timothy Zoll and Florissant councilman Joseph Eagan.
If the nonprofit can spend the funds on Wilson's legal defense, it will, Roorda says. For now, that's a question for a tax attorney.
Shield of Hope, founded years before Michael Brown's death to support police officers, may be managing the donations, but it didn't start the first GoFundMe page for Wilson. A teenage girl launched the first fundraiser, which raised $235,550, and asked Shield of Hope to take over after receiving threats, Roorda says.
There's a chance that because the girl, not Shield of Hope, oversaw the first round of fundraising, the money could be used toward Wilson's legal defense. Roorda says supporters are considering channeling the funds through the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 15, which supports St. Louis County suburbs, including Ferguson.
The Fraternal Order is a 501c5 nonprofit with different tax rules than a 501c3 like Shield of Hope. There's just one hitch, Roorda says: If the donations to Wilson go through the order, they won't be tax-deductible for the donors.
Roorda says supporters won't reopen the first fundraising page because GoFundMe won't let administrators transfer a fundraiser over to another person or group. However, once supporters hammer out details about how to use money raised in the second fundraiser, which has raised $197,620, it could reopen.