Politics·CBC Investigates

Numbers suggest many American protest convoy donors also gave to Trump, Republicans

Out of 200 of the top American donors to the convoy protest that paralyzed downtown Ottawa and blocked parts of the Canada-U.S. border, half have names matching those of donors to Republican candidates, the Republican Party or former U.S. President Donald Trump, according to analysis by CBC News.

Half of 200 top American donors have names matching those of donors to Republicans and former president

A protester yells 'Freedom!' at a person who attempted to stick a paper sign on a truck criticizing the convoy protest on its 18th day in Ottawa on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Out of 200 of the top American donors to the convoy protest that paralyzed downtown Ottawa and blocked parts of the Canada-U.S. border, half have names matching those of donors to Republican candidates, the Republican Party or former U.S. President Donald Trump, according to analysis by CBC News.

A search of the U.S. Federal Election Commission (FEC) campaign finance database for 200 of the top American donations to GiveSendGo's convoy crowdfunding campaign shows that 50 per cent of those donors have names and zip codes matching those of people who have donated in the past to the Republican Party, one of its political action committees or Republican candidates.

The names and zip codes of half of those Republican donors — about a quarter of the 200 convoy donors — match those of people who have donated directly to one of Trump's campaigns or to one of the fundraising bodies that support him, like Save America or Bikers for the President.

The search found that 86 of those 200 convoy donors did not appear in the FEC database under the names and zip codes they disclosed with their donations to the anti-vaccine mandate convoy protest.

Only six convoy donors appear to have donated in the past to the Democratic Party or its candidates, while three have donated to both parties or to both Republican and Democratic candidates at various times.

CBC was not able to individually verify the identity of each donor whose name and zip code matched that of a Republican donor. CBC News reached out to more than 50 Americans listed as having donated to the GiveSendGo campaign to ask what prompted them to support the convoy protest. Most did not respond. 

CBC also ran a computerized matching search of 290 donations. Roughly half of those convoy donations match a name and zip code in the FEC database and most of their party donations went to Republicans.

The analysis by CBC News comes as questions mount about the amount of financial backing the convoy protest received from the U.S.

Illegal hack uncovered new facts about donors

Data made public on Feb. 13 — after GiveSendGo's "Freedom Convoy 2022" crowdfunding page was illegally hacked — revealed that while most of the 92,844 listed donors who contributed to the convoy before Feb. 10 were Americans, more than half of the $8.4 million US in donations detailed in the data came from Canadians.

The names of the vast majority of Americans donors to the convoy protest would not have been known had the GiveSendGo donation site not been hacked. CBC's analysis shows that more than three-quarters of those 200 American donors to the convoy campaign chose to publicly list their donations as anonymous, under their first names only or under an alias such as "Freedom."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government will examine the question of the foreign donations to the convoy protest. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that the government should examine the role that money donated from outside Canada played in the protest.

"There are also reflections we have to have on misinformation and disinformation and looking at ... the role of foreign money and foreign influence in attempts to undermine or even destabilize our democracy," Trudeau told reporters last week when asked about lessons the government has learned from the protest.

Under Canadian law, only Canadian citizens or permanent residents can donate to a political candidate or party. Those donations must be made under the donors' real names and donations of more than $200 can be viewed in a public database.

But the law is silent on donations from outside Canada to a political protest that doesn't support any particular political party.

The convoy protest attracted millions of dollars in donations — through crowdfunding sites, cryptocurrency, direct e-transfers to protest organizers and cash donations from strangers walking along the street.

A police member stands in front of trucks blocking downtown streets as a rally against COVID-19 restrictions continued in Ottawa on Wednesday, February 9, 2022. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

It's not clear how much of the money raised has actually reached protest organizers or participants. GoFundMe cancelled its campaign for the protest, which had collected more than $10 million, citing concerns about how the money would be used. The company, which had released $1 million to the protest organizers, said it would refund all donations.

The company has since hired Canadian lobbyists and is scheduled to testify before the House of Commons public safety committee Thursday.

GiveSendGo tweeted on Feb. 18 that the "truckers have received some of the funds paid out to the Adopt a Trucker campaign," which has collected nearly $600,000 US.

"As this plays out with the Canadian government, there have been steps taken to prevent the funds from being 'frozen,'" the company wrote. "Currently, the bulk of the funds are in an undisclosed U.S. bank."

On the page for the convoy fundraiser, which has raised $9.7 million US, GiveSendGo added a note saying that "funds from this campaign will be disbursed in a manner permitted under Canadian law and there are current restrictions in place that might impede the immediate ability to disburse funds to this recipient."

Police enforce an injunction against protesters on Feb. 19, 2022. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Two court actions are also tying up money donated to the protest: a restraining order sought by the Ontario government and another court order issued in relation to a class action suit brought by Ottawa residents.

New Hampshire resident Roy Bettle was one of the more than 51,000 Americans who contributed to the GiveSendGo campaign. In the past, the cybersecurity expert has donated to a wide variety of causes and political candidates, including former U.S. president Donald Trump.

On Feb. 5, he donated $1,000 US to the GiveSendGo convoy fundraising campaign along with this message: "Those who stand against you will be undone. Keep the faith."

'For me, it wasn't about politics'

Bettle told CBC News he donated to the convoy protest because he respected what the truckers were doing and had compassion for their willingness to make personal sacrifices for a cause.

"For me, it wasn't about politics or overthrowing the government or any of that stuff," he said. "For me, I related to people being willing to make very steep personal sacrifices for something that they believe in."

Bettle said the Canadian convoy protest has had a global impact and has broken through the "echo chambers" that can surround some people in positions of power. He bristled at Trudeau's suggestion that people in other countries shouldn't have donated to the convoy protest.

"Mr. Trudeau, don't tell me what I get to do with my money," he said. "I earned it. I paid taxes on it. I'll spend it however I damn well please."

A protester obstructs the lens of a CBC cameraperson while police enforce an injunction against protesters on Feb. 19, 2022. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Other top American donors to the convoy protest were less willing to talk with CBC News.

According to the GiveSendGo database, one person who listed an Idaho zip code donated $17,760 U.S. to the Freedom Convoy 2022 campaign along with the message, "Let freedom ring, brothers to the north. Cryptocurrency is the future." The combination of that name and zip code does not appear in the FEC political contributions database.

CBC News contacted the e-mail address that accompanied the donation, seeking comment.

"Govern me harder daddy," reads the email that came in response. The message included a meme image of a head full of vaccination needles and the phrase, "I hope my government will let me go outside today."

Another contributor who listed a Harvard, Massachusetts zip code, donated $1,200 US to the convoy protest on Feb. 5 with the comment, "A rosary for Canada!" A person with the same name and zip code has donated frequently to the Republican Party, to the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund and to a variety of candidates, including Trump.

CBC sent a message to the e-mail associated with his donation and received a reply declining to comment.

"I'll pass, thanks," said the reply. "Feel free to quote Brian Peckford in my place."

Peckford, a former premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, has opposed COVID-19 restrictions and has filed suit against the federal government, arguing its vaccine mandate for international travel is unconstitutional.

U.S. donations driven by Trump, says ex-ambassador

Bruce Heyman, who served as U.S. ambassador to Canada under President Barack Obama, said he believes the wave of donations to the convoy protest from Americans was triggered largely by a speech Trump gave in Texas on Jan. 29 praising those participating in the convoy protest.

Former U.S. president Donald Trump praised the convoy protest at a rally on Jan. 29, 2022 in Conroe, Texas. (Jason Fochtman/Houston Chronicle/The Associated Press)

"I don't know if anybody would have donated to anything had Donald Trump not come out and professed support for what was taking place in Ottawa and used very strong language against the prime minister," Heyman said. "That was the beginning of a pile-on by his supporters."

Heyman said the convoy may also have attracted donations from anti-vaxxers or those seeking to disrupt society.

Heyman said Americans should not be donating to a political protest in Canada.

"I don't believe that you should be funding destabilizing activities against a government that is your ally, friend and neighbour," he said.

"I wish I could say this is a one-off. I wish I could say that this will never happen again."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to limit identifying information.

With files from Katie Simpson, Katie Swyers and Albert Leung

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