So, back in early July we started looking deeper into the wildly viral Chauncy’s Chance campaign which no doubt all of you have heard of by now. Our exact words were, I believe, ‘creepy’ as we sifted through campaign owner Matt White’s photos and video of Chauncy and his grandmother/adopted mother Barbara being trotted out for the sake of views and more donations, in our mind. Matt seemed weirdly attached to the family and it was, well, ‘creepy’ and we still stand by that assessment as a third party watching it from the outside but your master of ceremonies here at GoFraudMe grew up as the minority at her inner city Milwaukee Public Schools and therefore has to humble herself realizing maybe there is a socioeconomic force here making it seem more creepy than it actually is. Well wait, hold on a sec.
In discussing the campaign here, we never implied that it was fraud, but we’ve been writing about this stuff long enough to know that pretty much every single viral campaign goes awry in one way or another; combine that with our already skeptical attitude about GoFundMe and yeah, it was something we had to talk about. And I stand by my initial observations that certain things I was seeing were ‘creepy,’ if well-intentioned. When I first reached out to Matt on Facebook a week or so ago, he said something along the lines of (LOL no it wasn’t along any lines, I’m copying this directly from my PMs) “I had never realized how things looked from the outside during this campaign or that people were drawing the wrong conclusions” and that really got me to thinking.
So, here’s this 30-something white dude of some privilege — I don’t know Matt’s background, but just being a white guy in Memphis is privilege on its own — meeting up with this teenage black kid offering to carry groceries in exchange for some donuts at the ‘rich people’ Kroger. What I realized in reflecting upon it is that a lot of the things those of us who assume the worst of GoFundMe campaigns to begin with saw as ‘creepy’ may have been just this white dude of some privilege suddenly being thrust into the media spotlight with this young black kid, and I do believe Matt did his best in mitigating the media shitstorm that followed, as unprepared as he was.
I asked Matt when we talked the other day if there was anything he regretted and cut him off before he could even answer me saying a press rep would have done them all a world of good, as we wouldn’t even be having this discussion had a PR pro been there from the start to say ‘Hey Matt, posting a picture of Chauncy sleeping is really creepy and just don’t do that K” and he said in response to my suggestion that they should have had a press rep “you don’t know what to do” when we talked about the media onslaught. And I get that. Neither he nor Chauncy were prepared for the flood of media attention that awaited them by a twist of fate after the GoFundMe page went up.
To hear him tell it, Matt knows the timeline all too well. I have three pages of notes in my reporter notebook from our chat on the phone and he can pretty much recount to the dollar when everything started to come together; when the GoFundMe campaign was at $2500 some guy offered to get Chauncy a lawn mower off Amazon, at $5000 there was an offer to help fix Barbara’s teeth, and when it was around $20,000 the Memphis Fox affiliate channel 13 got in touch to do interviews; from there, The Ellen Show picked up on it and that’s the point the proverbial shit hit the fan as it were. At $150k, GoFundMe contacted him and stayed in constant contact from that point, making sure the campaign was on the up-and-up so there’s that.
One thing I took away from my convo with Matt was that he was really surprised by WePay’s 30 cent cut from every donation; think about it, $340k donated to the campaign and many of those are $5 or $10 donations, so you’re talking about maybe $30k total skimmed off from the gross? That’s significant, though Matt made it clear he wasn’t hating on GoFundMe nor WePay for taking their part, just kind of surprised when WePay’s transaction fee added up.
All along, I expressed extra skepticism because Matt hadn’t treated distribution of the GoFundMe funds in the same way he’d expressed every other move Chauncy and Barbara made, from Barbara’s new teeth to Chauncy starting his lawn care job to the family escaping their old home in Memphis to hide out in hotels, and that was a giant red flag to us. What Matt told us was that he didn’t want to make it about the money, and TBH, we kind of get it. That said, there was clearly a giant chunk of money involved, so it’s not like anyone could avoid it. But again, here’s a group of people who have no idea how to address that kind of fame trying to make the best of it and trying to figure out how to handle this insane media attention; I’m a media professional and even I might be a tad thrown off if I suddenly had to deal with the kind of attention Matt did once the campaign hit batshit crazy viral status.
So, Matt sent us proof of a trust established for Chauncy with an EIN of its own and for the sake of protecting their privacy, we won’t share it here but we do have some screenshots to share of actual distribution from the WePay account if that makes everyone feel better (I know I felt better seeing it). The full video Matt sent me includes a bunch of back and forth with the lawyers who worked on the trust that I don’t feel needs to be shared here, but here’s a message from the lawyer on July 12 saying the trust has been set up:
And then there is this WePay accounting Matt sent us (including a massive donor database which we won’t share for privacy reasons but only lends to the legitimacy of his claim) showing WePay disbursed $308k to said trust:
Are there still some red flags about the campaign? Well sure, and I wouldn’t discourage anyone from asking questions because that’s never a bad thing but Matt has told me since we opened up communication that he’s also getting some really nasty comments, and that is never cool. Do the red flags automatically mean fraud? Of course not, and I never implied as much. And it doesn’t give people free reign to go attack him just because you think maybe it’s shady, I mean come on get it the fuck together why are you getting shitty with this dude?
As for our criticism about why Matt suddenly had all this freetime to serve as impromptu press rep for the Chauncy campaign? He told us he was signed to an artist development contract at Made in Memphis as a musician back in January and as such, he was pretty much free to the extent that he completed his weekly song-writing and vocal work duties for that contract. As a one-woman project here myself, I absolutely get that and it seems like a valid justification as to why Matt seemed to be able to pick up and go to be on call for interviews and ‘safety runs’ with Barbara and Chauncy. As for the ‘running away,’ Matt told us neither Chauncy nor Barbara drive, so he was their only ride out of the Memphis hood, and that seems legit too because Memphis right?
We asked Matt tonight for one last statement before we put this up and he said the following:
In the end, this whole experience has really shown me the power of God’s love in a community. Before there was any money, this was just me using videos and Facebook to try to affect change on the direction of a young man’s life through the kindness of others. All I intended to do was get Chauncy to come to church with me and encourage him in his efforts to have a lawn mowing business. But God had bigger plans. Now Chauncy and his mom have a home of their own, and a future. And they want to go out and pay it forward. To keep the wave of love that saved their lives moving onto the next family. Seeing that happen has been the most beautiful and rewarding thing I could ever ask for. I just want to tell everyone that made this possible how much it means to me and that I promise I’ll work to the day I die to help keep it moving.
Can we say with 100% certainty that Matt is legit? Of course not. No one is 100% certain; not Enron, not WorldCom, not Olympus. But do we feel pretty comfortable saying that the evidence Matt gave us proves that the GoFundMe money went directly to Chauncy? We do.
On that note, we’re bringing him on the podcast in coming weeks (shameless self promotion but subscribe on iTunes or Google Play) and would love to hear your thoughts as to what we should ask him. Drop ’em in the comments below.
Also, we got weak in the knees talking about a dog rescue event we’re doing here in Richmond with Matt and he mentioned his own rescue dog Harpo. I mean just look at him.
Could there still be fraud afoot? Of course there could. And we won’t dare put our own neck on the line saying yes, donating to this campaign is 100% fraud free because no campaign is 100% fraud free. But do we feel better after talking to Matt and seeing proof of Chauncy’s GoFundMe money going directly into a trust established on his behalf? Um, yes. Hope that settles the ‘controversy,’ though as stated earlier, we still stick by our view that some of the videos were kinda creepy and that’s not meant as offensive to anyone involved but sorry, Matt, but they were LOL. But if trolls want to go after him with crazy death threats and the crap he alluded to in a conversation with us, we told him send him our way and we’ll deal with them accordingly. I mean what the hell is wrong with y’all, seriously? It’s one thing to be skeptical, it’s an entirely other thing to be a weird ass internet stalker going after someone attacking this dude directly on Facebook. The f**k is wrong with you?
Anyway. As stated above, Matt is going to come on the Gofraudme podcast in the coming weeks, so if you have questions for him, speak now or forever hold your internet hate. For now, we’re going to bed tonight fairly confident knowing Chauncy’s GoFundMe money is in fact in a legal trust, and that Matt may have his creepy moments as a white dude of some privilege but he always meant well and I guess that’s what matters? I mean think about it, what the hell would you do if you found yourself in the middle of a GoFundMe viral shitstorm?
See you on the podcast, Matt. And I am completely serious, stop sending the dude shittygrams; that’s between him, GoFundMe, lawyers, and God, you basement-dwelling weirdos. You have a question for him? Post it below and I’ll ask otherwise shut the hell up.