The crowdfunding site GoFundMe has threatened legal action against a civil rights organization criticizing its policies, but the organization said Friday that it is not backing down.
Color of Change, a nonprofit group that advocates for the black community, has been aggressively petitioning GoFundMe and its founders, Brad Damphousse and Andy Ballester, to remove a fundraising effort that brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Missouri, police officer who shot and killed Mike Brown on Aug. 9. GoFundMe contends that the campaign does not violate its terms, but Color of Change believes it is racially motivated -- and it feels so strongly about the issue that it is planning to put up an anti-GoFundMe billboard near the company’s office in San Diego.
In a letter dated Sept. 16 and obtained by International Business Times Monday, a lawyer for GoFundMe accused Color of Change of engaging in a “smear campaign” and threatened to pursue swift legal action if the group does not cease and desist such behavior. Despite the threat, Arisha Hatch, managing director of campaigns for Color of Change, said the group has no plans to back off.
“We know what we have a right to do,” she said. “We’re a nonprofit organization and we can publicly campaign against any corporation.”
The letter accuses Color of Change of threatening and intimidating GoFundMe employees and defaming the GoFundMe name. Hatch said after discussing the letter with Color of Change’s legal team, the group believes it is within its legal rights. She said the letter is just a scare tactic.
A spokesperson for GoFundMe did not respond to requests for comment.
Hatch said funds for the billboard were raised via donations solicited through an email campaign, and that the group has been transparent about its plans. Artwork for the billboard is not finalized, she said, but a mockup tweeted on Sept. 4 accuses GoFundMe of “profiting from Michael Brown’s death.”
â€” ColorOfChange.org (@ColorOfChange) September 4, 2014
Color of Change had been in talks with GoFundMe about making changes to its policy, but the two sides could not reach an agreement. “We reached a point after those discussions, after them being stubborn and really not seeming to understand what is at stake on a real level, that clearly we needed to continue the campaign to make that more clear,” she said.
GoFundMe’s terms prohibit fundraising efforts motivated by "hate," and the company has recently updated its terms and conditions to further strengthen its regulations. But while the Officer Wilson campaign attracted racially charged comments when it was first launched in August, it was allowed to remain on the site because the campaign itself did not contain hateful content. Wilson, as of yet, has not been charged with a crime, and in fact may never be charged.
Combined, two campaigns raising funds for Wilson have taken in more than $400,000. Both campaigns stopped taking donations weeks ago, and one has disappeared from the site completely.
Although GoFundMe has maintained it is a neutral platform, it often makes judgment calls to remove content it deems inappropriate.
Color of Change insists that, in letting the Wilson fundraiser remain, GoFundMe is sending a message that violence will be rewarded. “GoFundMe doesn’t seem to understand,” Hatch said. “If this type of fundraiser -- which immediately drew so much hateful and racist language -- doesn’t trigger some sort of policy, then what does?”