A U.S. website has met its $200,000 fundraising goal to buy a video allegedly showing Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine, but the destination of those funds remains murky: Not only has the site lost contact with the brokers of the purported video, but its promise to donate the money if the deal goes south has not been warmly received by Canadian non-profits.
Gawker.com says it has not been able to reach those in possession of the alleged video since May 19, telling donors Monday morning, "Our confidence that we can consummate this transaction has diminished." When it launched the so-called Crackstarter campaign, Gawker said it would make a donation to a Canadian non-profit dealing with substance abuse if the deal failed to materialize.
But that doesn't mean organizations here are waiting for the funds with open arms.
"We appreciate donations, but it has to come from a good source, not something like this," said Shirley Carmody, executive director of the Toronto-based Oasis Addiction Recovery Society. "I feel that we really don't want any part of it."
Ms. Carmody said it's unlikely the society would accept the donation, in part because the funds are indirectly associated with a video that "may or may not show the mayor doing something" but also because the money would be "better off" with a group that helps active addicts, not those in recovery.
As of deadline Monday, Gawker editor John Cook had not responded to e-mails asking which Canadian non-profit would potentially receive the money. Both he and two Toronto Star reporters say they have seen a video that appears to show the mayor smoking crack cocaine. The Globe and Mail has not been able to verify the existence of the video or its contents. Mr. Ford has said he does not use crack cocaine and said Sunday "there's no video."
None of the several addiction-related groups contacted by The Globe had been approached by Gawker at the time of this writing, and some said they would not answer hypothetical questions. But with the sale potentially on ice, Canadian groups face the very real prospect of having to decide whether to accept crowd-sourced funds raised in relation to alleged crack use.
Both the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Canada's largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, and Toronto's Bellwood Health Services, which offers addiction treatment and prevention services, said the boards of their respective foundations would likely have to deliberate before making a decision.
"A situation like this has never come up before, in terms of the source of the money," said Michael Torres, a CAMH spokesman. "There are certain standards that the foundation has and they would have to discuss those."
"I can't speak for the board as to whether … they would be comfortable taking some of that money," echoed Julie Bowles, Bellwood's manager of business development. "If it were to be a difficult decision, it'd be around how the money came about."
A spokesperson for the Salvation Army in Canada, which runs shelters that offer addiction treatment and transitional housing for those in recovery, was more decisive, saying the group would absolutely accept the money if it was legally obtained. Andrew Burditt said he didn't understand why groups would brand the donation "dirty money" since it appears to have been collected on the "up and up" and could be used to help addicts.
"As long as funds and goods are obtained legally and on the up and up, we're grateful for whatever people can do," he said, adding any future Gawker donation could be used in a number of ways, including hiring addiction counsellors.
Toronto-based charity lawyer Mark Blumberg said since donors were explicitly warned their money could be redirected to a Canadian non-profit, he doesn't foresee any legal issues.
"It would be Gawker essentially acting as a third-party fundraiser," Mr. Blumberg said. "It's not really a donation from Gawker, it's a donation from all those people who gave the donation. As long as they were told that the money could go to something else, I don't see it being a problem."
Mr. Cook, meanwhile, expressed his apparent surprise at reaching the $200,000 target before the 11:59 p.m. deadline Monday, tweeting, "Well what do you know?"