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By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times

Two online fundraising pages that raised more than $400,000 for the police officer who killed an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo., were shut down this weekend so tax lawyers could decide how best to handle the money, an official told the Los Angeles Times.

Mystery has surrounded the pages on the crowdsourced fundraising site GoFundMe since Saturday, when both were suspended by their creators without an explanatory note to donors. And some mystery persisted Monday night.

“Support Officer Darren Wilson” and “Support Officer Wilson” — two separate pages with similar names — raised $235,750 and $197,620, respectively, for the Ferguson police officer who shot Michael Brown, 18, on Aug. 9, touching off protests and unrest.

The first page, “Support Officer Darren Wilson,” had raised the most concern because its creator was anonymous and had not received certified status from GoFundMe.

Missouri state Rep. Jeffrey Roorda, a Democrat who is helping to handle Wilson’s fundraising efforts, said the creator of that page is a teenage girl from the St. Louis area.

“I think she thought she’d raise a few hundred dollars, and she ended up raising a few hundred thousand dollars,” Roorda said in a phone interview Monday night. After her page got popular, Roorda said, the young woman started receiving “serious threats.”

Roorda said he doesn’t know how old she is or whether she’s a minor; he described her as a “teenage girl,” a “young girl.”

When The Times relayed Roorda’s story to the anonymous accountholder of the page purportedly created by the girl, however, an unidentified administrator responded: “I can tell you I have not worked with or spoken with Rep. Roorda. The information you have been given is false.”

Roorda replied, “So what part’s false?” adding that he hadn’t personally met the girl but that other police officials had met her to thank her. He guessed that perhaps the page’s creator was trying to protect herself from further threats.

Once again, however, an anonymous administrator denied the story. “We can guarantee you the information is not correct,” a subsequent email said. “We cannot control what you may choose to report/publish but we do want you to know when information is inaccurate. We appreciate your understanding regarding this matter.”

A spokeswoman for GoFundMe had previously told The Times that the service “has been in contact with the campaign organizer and has no reason to question their authenticity,” but added that the page had been stripped from the site’s search results because the creator no longer had a Facebook page attached to the fundraising page.

Also muddying matters in recent days was an anonymously run Facebook page called “Support Darren Wilson,” with more than 77,000 likes.

In status updates over the weekend, the page’s operator had purported to know why the fundraising efforts had been halted but declined to share more information with supporters — some of whom saw their comments deleted after they raised questions about who was handling the money.

At one point, the page exhorted followers to start a petition against the GoFundMe page run by the attorneys for Brown’s family, which had raised $317,143 as of Monday evening.

“It’s a third-party thing,” Roorda said of the Facebook page. “It’s a fellow out of Texas who reached out early on, wanted to know how to help. We told him about the young girl’s charitable efforts, he put the page up, and has promoted those efforts.”

Roorda is vice president of Shield of Hope — the charitable wing of the Fraternal Order of Police union, to which Wilson belongs — as well as a Democratic candidate for state Senate.

(Earlier this year, Roorda sponsored a bill that, in addition to other changes, would have kept the names of officers involved in shootings secret unless they were charged. Roorda told The Times he is no longer pushing for that legislation.)

Roorda said Shield of Hope — whose officers include a spokesman for the Ferguson Police Department and a Florissant city council member — created the second Wilson fundraising page after the girl’s mom asked the union to take over.

That Florissant city council member, Joseph Eagan, said in an email: “My affiliation with the charity has more to do with my work as a police officer than as a councilman. Essentially I believe in due process.” He alluded to an incident in which he’d been shot while on duty.

“The suspect that shot me in the face at point-blank range received due process,” he said. “I think all Americans should.” Eagen added that he would let Roorda speak on behalf of the organization.

Roorda said GoFundMe rules prevent page creators from transferring the administration of donation pages to other users, which is why two pages for Wilson came to exist side by side. Roorda said tax attorneys for the police union were trying to figure out how best to handle the hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions, since donations for legal defenses are apparently not tax-deductible.

“Before this, we were raising hundreds or maybe thousands of dollars to help pay for scholarships for children of cops, to pay for relief when an officer was hurt or killed in the line of duty,” Roorda said of Shield of Hope, which has existed for several years. “The epic proportions of this case is something that I don’t think anything was prepared for or expected.”

After a previous Times story identified Roorda as a member of the Wilson fundraising effort, social media users took note of details about his professional history.

Roorda was fired from the police force of Arnold, a St. Louis exurb, in 2001. His superiors accused him of filing a false statement against a suspect in 1997 and against his own police chief in 2001 when the chief declined to give Roorda paid paternity leave, according to Missouri court records.

The lawmaker told The Times that the 2001 dispute with his boss came after Roorda filed a police report against the chief for violating a restraining order held by the chief’s wife. The city fired the chief not long after, he said.

Roorda later became police chief of Kimmswick, another St. Louis exurb, and a business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers Assn. He now sits on the Missouri House’s public safety committee.

Asked if he had any trepidation at getting involved in the Ferguson affair as a politician running for office, Roorda responded:

“I can tell you that every single voter in my district that I’ve talked to wants to reserve judgment on Officer Wilson and on Michael Brown until the facts are out there. … The people in my district just care about getting the facts and about justice being done.”

AFP Photo/Joshua Lott

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

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