Crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe create seemingly easy ways for family, friends, and strangers alike to come together and donate to a good cause. Donors can contribute to fund new technologies, cover funeral expenses, and “pay it forward” to deserving individuals.

Johnny Bobbitt Jr., a homeless veteran, used his last twenty dollars to help a stranded couple fill their empty gas tank. The couple created a GoFundMe to thank Bobbitt and give him the new start he deserved. Though the page originally had a $10,000 goal, Bobbitt’s heartwarming story brought it more than $400,000 of donations.

Soon after, however, this fairy-tale story turned into a battle over alleged mismanagement of funds. After the couple gave Bobbitt $25,000 from the page, he supposedly spent the entirety of that amount on drugs. The couple stated that they did not want to turn over the remaining funds until Bobbitt was drug-free. Bobbitt alleged that while the couple had control of the account, they spent the GoFundMe money on gambling, lavish vacations, and a luxury vehicle for themselves. Bobbitt filed a lawsuit against the couple, and GoFundMe launched an investigation of its own. GoFundMe has since indicated that Bobbitt will receive the balance of the funds. Indeed, “[i]n the rare case that GoFundMe, law enforcement, or a user finds campaigns are misused, donors and beneficiaries are protected. We’re fulfilling that commitment today and we will continue to work with Johnny’s team to make sure he’s receiving all donated amounts.”

Was the couple’s decision to withhold funds morally correct? Surely no individual would donate to support a drug habit. If GoFundMe truly seeks to protect donors, shouldn’t Bobbitt’s use of funds fall squarely within the meaning of a misused campaign? Shouldn’t the money instead be distributed back to the original donors? While GoFundMe seemed to close the door on the case at hand, these unanswered questions may lead to similar crowdfunding lawsuits in the future.

Taylor K. Caleb

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