A Minnesota nonprofit that raised $30 million in a week’s time to help pay bail for people protesting police violence in the Twin Cities has come under criticism from President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee.
The Trump campaign and the RNC are calling attention to a media report that 13 staffers on former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign donated to the Minnesota Freedom Fund.
Following the demonstrations and riots in the wake of George Floyd’s May 25 death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, the small nonprofit group found itself promoted by celebrities on social media as a way to financially support protesters.
“Joe Biden’s campaign staff joined Hollywood celebrities to donate money to the Minnesota Freedom Fund — a donation pool dedicated to posting bail for the very people arrested and responsible for the destruction of the city,” RNC spokeswoman Preya Samsundar wrote in a news release Tuesday.
Reuters reported on Saturday that 13 Biden staffers advertised donations to the Minnesota Freedom Fund on Twitter on Friday and Saturday. A Biden spokesman told Reuters that the former vice president and Democratic nominee opposes cash bail.
The Freedom Fund is dedicated to eliminating the system of cash bail, which critics say disadvantages the poor and minorities in the criminal justice system.
Biden spokesman Andrew Bates called cash bail “a modern day debtor’s prison.” The Biden campaign did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.
“Getting this group out of pretrial incarceration is part of our process,” Steve Boland, the group’s treasurer, said of demonstrators who face charges. “But so is working on helping people understand that the racist cash bail system is part of what got us into this problem in the first place.”
Boland said since charges are just starting to surface from the demonstrations and riots of recent days, the group has not yet had to cover many bails. None so far have been for individuals charged with arson, looting, vandalism or other violent acts, he said. But he added that his group would not refrain from covering those bail costs if needed.
“Let’s say the police have decided to charge you with something because they don’t like you, and it keeps you in jail because your family can’t afford bail,” Boland said. “People should not have less justice because they have less money, and we’re happy to have that conversation with any political force that wants to talk it out.”
Representatives of the RNC and the Trump campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment on whether Trump and his party support the current cash bail system, or if they support bail costs being covered for nonviolent demonstrators.
As demonstrations intensified following Floyd’s death and the story spread on social media, a number of public figures started to tweet that they were donating to the Minnesota Freedom Fund and encouraged others to do likewise. Some pledged matching donations. Boland said since the group is the only one of its kind in Minnesota, he thinks the early wave of new donors probably found the fund via Google searches.
“Justin Timberlake I think was one of the larger ones. Janelle Monae, Don Cheadle, Steve Carell. There were a lot. I’m a fan of Patton Oswalt and I’m reading my Twitter feed and there is Patton Oswalt saying he is matching donations to us,” Boland said. “It was like, ‘Oh my.’ ”
A typical one-year donation haul was previously about $150,000, Boland said. The Minnesota Freedom Fund has now posted a message on its website saying it doesn’t need more donations and urging donations to other groups raising money to rebuild businesses in Minneapolis and St. Paul.