During the crucible of Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearings, Democrats repeatedly asserted that Christine Blasey Ford had “nothing to gain” by coming forward with her explosive accusation of attempted rape against the Supreme Court nominee.
"You had absolutely nothing to gain by bringing these facts to the Senate Judiciary Committee,” Sen. Dick Durbin said during her testimony last month. This sentiment was echoed by other Democrats, who presented it as evidence that Ford was telling the truth. "I want to thank you,” added California Sen. Kamala Harris, “because you clearly have nothing to gain for what you have done."
In fact, Ford stands to gain some $1 million and counting from national crowdfunding campaigns launched by friends and other supporters, while she is said to be fielding book offers.
The potential seven-figure windfall, which she says she intends to cash in on – while still asking donors for more money – has some questioning her motivation for accusing the conservative judge after 35 years of silence, and whether it goes beyond personal or even political justice. Others worry the largesse sets a dangerous precedent: Crowdfunding, which unlike political donations is unregulated, could be routinely used in the future as a bounty for providing political dirt on opponents.
Two GoFundMe accounts have raised more than $842,000 for Ford, and the money is still coming in weeks after she testified and left the spotlight. The total does not include a third account collecting $120,000 for an academic endowment in her name.
"The costs for security, housing, transportation and other related expenses are much higher than we anticipated and they do not show signs of letting up,” Ford said in a recent statement posted on the GoFundMe page of the “Help Christine Blasey Ford” campaign, which is still bringing in donations. "Funds received via this account will be used to help us pay for these mounting expenses.”
GoFundMe spokeswoman Katherine Cichy told RealClearInvestigations that Ford and her husband can withdraw as much as they want whenever they want for any purpose. Payments would be electronically deposited into the Fords' bank account within two to five business days of initiating withdrawals.
All told, more than 21,000 people have donated to her cause. Several donors have written big checks, including Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, who gave $10,000.
Some question the necessity of the financial assistance given that much of the costs associated with Ford's testimony – including all of her legal fees plus a polygraph examination – were covered by Democratic attorneys assigned to her by the Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, committee sources say; panel Democrats were allotted half of a $1 million committee fund for transportation, security, investigations and other expenses associated with the tumultuous confirmation process. The Senate Sergeant at Arms and Capitol Police also provided "heightened security" for Ford.
"Her lawyers said they were representing her on a pro-bono basis. Why does she need all of this money?” said an attorney familiar with the committee's investigation into her allegations, adding that the funds were originally set up to help pay her legal bills.
Attempts to reach Ford at her home and office were unsuccessful.
In a dramatic September hearing, the Palo Alto University professor accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when the two were in high school. Following her tearful testimony – and an angry denial from Kavanaugh – the GOP-led committee agreed to ask the FBI to investigate her charges. After agents could not corroborate her story, the full Senate voted to seat the judge on the high bench earlier this month.
RealClearInvestigations reached out to Ford’s legal team – including Washington attorneys Debra S. Katz, Lisa J. Banks and Michael R. Bromwich – to determine the scope of their financial assistance. Asked specifically if any of them helped cover her travel or security costs, in addition to her legal bills, the lawyers declined comment.
Ford maintained that she was forced to hire round-the-clock security to protect her and her family after she decided to testify against Kavanaugh. “My family and I have been the target of constant harassment and death threats,” Ford testified. “My family and I were forced to move out of our home.”
Taylor Foy, a spokesman for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, said the panel was “not provided with specifics of any threats against Dr. Ford.”
The most detailed threat reported, which a friend of Ford’s relayed to the New York Times, concerned a social media message Ford allegedly received that said, “From what I’ve heard, you have 6 months to live, you disgusting slime."
Ford’s lawyers said she has met with the FBI at its San Francisco field office to discuss the threats, which Ford testified were “terrifying and have rocked me to my core.” It’s not immediately known if any arrests were made, or if the threats were ever determined to be credible. The FBI did not respond to requests for information.
She and her lawyers also claimed she was forced to flee her home due to threats.
Journalists may have also factored into Ford's relocation. After she first told her story in the Washington Post, the national media staked out her Palo Alto home for several days, peering into her windows and trampling her front yard. Ford testified that members of the media also stalked her at her workplace.
Local media reported that demonstrators also gathered around her home, almost all of whom were sympathetic neighbors, friends and other supporters, not protesters. Dozens of supporters last month lined her street and interlinked arms to form a human wall in front of her house to “protect Christine.” A few days later another 2,000 people turned out for a candlelight vigil to support Ford in her largely liberal neighborhood.
Earlier this month, Ford appealed to GoFundMe donors to continue contributing to her coffers, portraying a family on the run and under increasing threat: "We have already had to move four times, our movements are limited even with security, and the threats are ongoing.” She said she needed the donations to defray the “costs for housing,” in addition to transportation and security.
But congressional sources say that, while Ford and her husband and two sons left their home, their temporary housing costs have been nominal. They point out that they have stayed with relatives or at their beach house in Santa Cruz, Calif.
The Fords bought the beach home along with their Palo Alto home in 2007, after selling a historic bed and breakfast for more than $1.5 million. The Victorian-style B&B located near La Selva Beach, Calif., featured seven bedrooms, 6.5 bathrooms and tennis courts on 1.3 acres, and also served as their private residence.
Their main Palo Alto home has a current market value of $3.3 million, more than quadruple their purchase price. Their Santa Cruz beach house is worth another $1.03 million at today’s prices.
Real estate records show the Fords have mortgages on both their current homes. They also spent tens of thousands of dollars refurbishing the B&B and renovating their Palo Alto house, including adding a room with a second front door to rent out to tenants (Ford testified she added the door due to “claustrophobia” and other residual anxiety from the alleged Kavanaugh assault).
Local records show that Christine Blasey Ford recently applied for a building permit to remodel their Santa Cruz beach house. The application was made on July 16 – just two weeks before she sent her letter accusing Kavanaugh of assaulting her to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
The proposed remodeling job is significant and expensive. The application obtained by RCI includes an almost 500-square-foot addition, along with a new front porch and new decks.
Ford’s defenders said it is absurd to suggest that she was aiming to cash in on such a traumatic chapter in her life.
“The idea that she would risk her safety and the safety of her husband and children for some free money is pernicious, the sort of toxic absurdity that spreads among folks who view women, in general, with suspicion,” Chicago Tribune writer Heidi Stevens opined in a recent column.
Heidi Li Feldman, a Washington law professor who started one of the GoFundMe campaigns for Ford, speculated that the Ford family could be spending as much as $10,000 a week on security, which would put her total costs at roughly $55,000 so far (assuming she continued to hire bodyguards after she testified Sept. 27 and after Kavanaugh was sworn in as associate Supreme Court justice Oct. 6).
“I sponsored a capped fundraiser to assist Dr. Blasey with her security expenses,” said Feldman, who has raised a total of more than $241,000 for Ford.
"She has access to the funds,” she added, "and I understand she will draw upon them when she has the opportunity.”
But the Fords' multimillion-dollar real estate assets raise questions about their burden and need for crowdfunding. Both Ford and her husband hold well-compensated jobs in academia and biotech.
A research psychologist and biostatistician, Ford teaches at Palo Alto University in consortium with Stanford University. Data show the typical PAU professor earns a salary of $150,000 per year. She has written or helped write more than 50 books, journals and articles. Outside of academia, she does consulting work for pharmaceutical firms, including helping design clinical trials. According to a recent Who’s Who profile, she is also director of biostatistics for Corcept Therapeutics, a Menlo Park, Calif., drug development firm with $160 million in sales, for which she’s worked since 2003.
Her husband, Russell B. Ford, is a Silicon Valley biomechanical engineer and inventor who holds several patents on medical devices.
Aside from possible financial incentives, critics say Ford clearly had a political motive to come forward with her unsubstantiated charges against Kavanaugh. They note that she is a registered Democrat who has made contributions earmarked for Bernie Sanders, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. She also marched against Trump’s stance on climate change and signed a letter speaking out against the Republican president's immigration policies. Trump nominated the conservative Kavanaugh last summer.
Her university also engages in liberal activism. PAU lists its core mission as “Social Justice” and offers a degree in “social action." Some legal analysts worry her crowdfunding windfall sets a dangerous precedent by creating a new incentive for accusers. They fear partisan activists will now offer crowdfunding as a form of bounty on political foes, or to buy witness testimony against political adversaries.
"This whole aspect of GoFundMe is relatively new, this idea that millions of people can effectively pay you to take a particular [political] position,” said Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University Law School professor and Fox News legal analyst. “It raises new questions that are pretty darn troubling.”
In fact, “you could have people effectively in a market for witnesses,” he warned. "You could buy a witness, effectively, by funding them as long as they’re saying the things you want them to say.”
Turley said that asking if the prospect of making money influenced Ford “to take a certain approach in [her] testimony,” and inquiring how the money raised for her will be spent, are both legitimate questions. He recommended that crowdfunding sites not only audit how such politically tied money is spent, but that they set up ethics “standards" to guard against fraud and abuse in such cases.
GoFundMe’s Cichy declined to respond to questions about these concerns.
Feldman, the lawyer who raised funds for Ford, also supported Hillary Clinton’s 2016 candidacy, donating thousands of dollars to her campaign. After Donald Trump won the election, she organized the national boycott of retailers selling Trump brands.
Supporters who started the larger fund for Ford – which has separately raised more than $633,000 so far – have chosen to remain anonymous. They are identified only as “Team Christine Blasey Ford” on the GoFundMe website, which states that the “team has decided to make their giving private.”
The GoFundMe campaigns are only part of the financial assistance she is receiving. Asked during her testimony if anyone else besides her lawyers and crowd-funders are helping finance her efforts, Ford answered that “there are members of the community in Palo Alto that have means to contribute to help me with the security detail, etc.” She did not elaborate.
On Oct. 29, Palo Alto Mayor Liz Kniss plans to hold a ceremony to publicly honor Ford for her “act of bravery” in testifying against Kavanaugh.