By Avis Little Eagle and Georgianne Nienaber
A native woman is found frozen in her trailer due to lack of propane for her furnace. A few days earlier, a 54-year-old tribal member was found frozen behind a building, a 24-year-old woman froze to death, and her 29-year-old boyfriend was found frozen to death in a snow bank this week. This is the reality of life on the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux Reservations. Many do not own their own homes, cars, money for gas if they do have a car, and the per capita income on the Standing Rock Reservation is $13,474, less than half of U.S. per capita ($27,334). (Source: Northern Plains Reservation Aid)
How can this happen when the eyes of the world are focused on the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and millions of dollars are pouring into Internet crowd sourcing sites? Estimates of the number of sites that use "Standing Rock" and "Sacred Stone" range from 5,000 to 20,000 including at least 10,000 GoFundMe accounts. Over 5,000 use the Standing Rock name, according to tribal officials. Where is the money going? The short answer is that no one knows.
Tribal budgets as well as the annual tribal audits are available upon the request of tribal members, at the tribal finance office. This is often not the case with crowd-sourced funding.
The National Crime Prevention Council suggests that online donors check out any unknown charity with a charity registration office, the Better Business Bureau, or a charity watchdog group such as Charity Watch, Give, and Guidestar. This investigation followed the NCPC guidelines and offered fundraisers the opportunity to respond by email if we could not locate the charity in question through charity watch organizations. GoFundMe, the number one crowd-sourcing website with over $3 billion raised for personal causes such as the Standing Rock protests, presents challenges in transparency.
When is a donation a "gift" and therefore tax-exempt? The courts have not yet clarified this, but crowd funding services have to report to the IRS campaigns that total at least $20,000 and 200 transactions, according to tax consultant Liberty Tax's website. Money collected from crowd funding is considered either income or a gift, and the "gift tax" is levied upon the donor. If a GoFundMe campaign benefits or is a registered non-profit organization or charity, taxes may not be necessary.
For now, it is up to the donor to be aware. Is it easy to contact the site? Is there a mailing address? Can donors reach the company by phone, email, or chat? If contact is established, do the owners of the campaign willingly provide clear answers as to how much money has been spent and how it has been allocated? Search for the fundraising site on the BBB's business search service. If the company is listed as a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), it will be listed on the website of the state in which it is doing business.