GoFundMe?

Recently, a number of our clients have had questions about using or contributing to a GoFundMe page. A tax-exempt organization that we represent and support has asked about the feasibility of using GoFundMe. Here is what you need to know about GoFundMe, both as a donor and as a recipient:

Online fundraising is, for many different situations, an excellent platform for raising money and has the potential to raise funds well beyond “traditional” means of fundraising. There are a number of online fundraising websites, some more legitimate than others. GoFundMe proudly labels themselves the “#1 crowdfunding and fundraising site,” and rightfully so. GoFundMe offers both individuals and organizations the opportunity to virtually crowd source to reach their financial goals. There are nearly unlimited categories of fundraising campaigns that GoFundMe permits, ranging from charitable contributions to assistance with medical bills to helping a teenager buy a new car.

The pros of GoFundMe’s offerings are substantial, but some are a bit of a double-edged sword. A major feature of GoFundMe is that there is no need to secure a physical location to hold a fundraiser due to the virtual platform, and therefore is accessible by nearly anybody, anywhere in the world. On the other hand, the online interface may be intimidating or unfamiliar to some potential donors.

Many advantages of GoFundMe are more clear cut. One of the most important qualities of GoFundMe is its safety. The financial information of both those fundraising and those donating is data encrypted, and GoFundMe has partnered with PayPal to manage donation payments. PayPal is a trusted financial service, and offers a tremendous amount of financial security and protection for digital monetary transactions. Unlike more common and traditional fundraisers, GoFundMe campaigns are able to maximize the funds raised because there are no services rendered or inventory of goods to maintain, such as with a car wash or bake sale and similar fundraising techniques. Other than the needs of those raising funds, GoFundMe does not implement any deadlines or time limits for a campaign, which again increases the accessibility and opportunity to make donations. Another significant advantage is that it is free to start a fundraising campaign with GoFundMe, and free for donors to make a donation.

However, GoFundMe wants their piece of the pie. While GoFundMe is free for both recipients to establish and donors to contribute, GoFundMe does deduct a 5% fee from each donation, regardless of whether the fundraising campaign is for an individual or a non-profit organization, and regardless of the amount of the donation. There is also an additional fee for the payment processing of each donation: 2.9% plus $.30, for a total fee of 7.9% plus 30 cents of each separate donation. In other words, if a donation of $10 is made, the fundraising recipient would receive $8.91 and a $1000 donation would have a fee of $79.30 deducted, leaving the recipient with $920.70.

These fees consume a portion of all donations, and that must be accounted for when determining if GoFundMe is a smart choice for your particular fundraising need. For our non-profit organization client, GoFundMe may be an effective method of fundraising.

When creating a GoFundMe campaign, a fundraising goal is selected. This goal does not need to be met in order to have a successful campaign: every donation received will be delivered to the recipient, regardless of the goal amount or amount needed to reach that goal. In that sense, there is very little downside.

The bottom line is this. If you’re looking to raise money, GoFundMe is at least worth considering as a fundraising platform. It is safe, both for those raising money and those making donations, it is legitimate and it is effective. There are very few traditional fundraisers that would allow someone to raise $100 with an upfront cost of only $8.20, the fee GoFundMe would take on a $100 donation.

For further GoFundMe information, use this link:
https://www.gofundme.com/questions

Allison Opsitnick-Young

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The Buck Stops Here

Truman and Ike Jan 53
President Harry S. Truman (L) and President Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) – President Eisenhower’s Inauguration, January 20, 1953

Harry S. Truman is my most respected President, partly because when I was born in January of 1953, Truman was still President, leaving office a week or so later when Dwight D. Eisenhower was sworn into office. However, it was Truman’s nature that appeals to me.

He was of modest upbringing and background. He was decidedly plain spoken, often blunt and without much pretense. He made difficult decisions and stood by them, most notably, ordering dropping of atomic bombs on Japan in August, 1945. He refused to “cash in” on the Presidency, stating “I could never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable, that would commercialize on the prestige and dignity of the office of the presidency.”

Truman’s character can be summarized by the sign on his desk, which said “The Buck Stops Here!” The meaning of this iconic sign is well known as a statement of personal responsibility. The “Buck”, responsibility and accountability for a decision or a task, stopped with President Truman as he was responsible for the decision, whether correct or incorrect, successful or unsuccessful.

Things have changed dramatically. How refreshing Truman’s honest policy was. The current President seems to have made it his life’s work to avoid responsibility for any consequence that does not result in success, defining the most mediocre outcomes as success further taking credit for successful outcomes that he had nothing to do with. The Buck stops anywhere but with the current occupant of the Oval Office.

As well, the vanquished candidate in this past Presidential Election has difficulty pointing the finger at herself when analyzing her defeat.

This “pass the buck” attitude permeates our government, businesses and personal lives. To pass the buck seems to be the norm and not the exception. It is difficult in this age, with news media and social media flooding us with excuse laden responses and reactions, to look ourselves in the mirror and take blame when proper. But to develop as a person and as a society, we must no longer pass the Buck and must take responsibility for our actions,regardless of the consequence.

Harry S. Truman was not perfect. He was, as we all are, a flawed person. Regardless, his unwillingness to “cash in” on his Presidency and to not “Pass the Buck” sends a message to all of us, some 60+ years later.

Allan Opsitnick

Trial By Jury

I recently tried a civil jury case to verdict. Given the pressure for settlement of cases, most lawsuits filed never proceed to jury trial, much less a verdict. While we usually represent civil plaintiffs, in this case I represented a defendant. The trial itself was brief, 1 1/2 days. Our 12 person civil jury began deliberations at mid-day of the second day of trial. After about 2 hours, the jury returned with a question, asking the Judge to re-read the jury instructions as to how liability is defined and determined.

At the end of a jury trial, the trial judge “charges” the jury, that is the trial judge reads the points of law to the jury. This jury charge is the legal road map for the jury. The jury then determines the facts of the case and applies the law. In this case, the jury poses questions about fault, liability, and asked the trial judge to re-charge them, which the trial judge did.

Two hours later, at the end of the day, there was still no verdict. The jury sent a message to the trial judge informing him that despite four votes being taken, a ten person majority was not achieved. Civil verdicts in Pennsylvania courts require a 10 out of 12 vote for a verdict to be reached. The trial judge dismissed the jury for the day and ordered them to report the following morning.

The next morning, day three of the trial, the jury reported at 9:30 and deliberated until about 11:30 before returning a verdict. The jury had voted 10-2 for my client, the defendant.

After the trial, I had the opportunity to speak to three of the jurors. They were honest in their statements. The case did not turn upon the skill or eloquence of my well prepared adversary or me. The case turned on 12 people determining what the facts of the case were and applying the law.

Interestingly, the initial vote was 5 for the defendant and 7 for the plaintiff. Over the course of almost a full day of the jury deliberations, the 5 pro defense jurors convinced 5 of the 7 pro plaintiff jurors to see things their way, resulting in the 10-2 verdict. Upon learning this, I was in awe of the dynamic among 12 people who had never met before.

The take away from this case: this jury took their oath seriously and deliberated with all of the back and forth required under the circumstances. The jury took their time and applied their respective backgrounds to reach a verdict. The jurors (regardless of the outcome of the case) are applauded for their service. Our system of trial by jury functions properly only when jurors are open minded.

Should you be summoned for jury duty, please approach this experience seriously and impartially. Your legal claim could depend on a jury at some time.

– Allan Opsitnick

Wills and Why You Need One

Opsitnick & Associates recently partnered with Pittsburgh area investment and insurance broker Rick Smith to present a live program for millennials. An enthusiastic group gathered at the Full Pint Wild Side Pub in Lawrenceville for an evening of information and conversation, as well as Full Pint’s distinctive beers and food.

Margo and I spoke about Wills and why YOU need one. Here are the bullet points, that YOU should consider;

– YOU can DIY. That’s right, you can write your own will, stating what happens to your assets at your death, and sign at the bottom. This is a valid probatable will.  I don’t recommend this at all, but you can do it. No witnesses are needed.

– There is no right or wrong way to prepare your will. How do you want your assets to go and who you select to administer your estate should be your choice solely. Remember, no one need see your will until probate and you won’t be alive at that time.  Do not worry about offending anyone.

– YOU can make both specific gifts, of personal and real property and and money. You are limited to more general bequests, for example, my estate shall be divided evenly among…

– YOU have the power to name an executor, the person who has the legal obligation to handle your affairs after death. Name someone that you trust.

– YOU can appoint a guardian of the estate of any minors that would take under your will. Remember, you might now have children, but you may have children in the future and you have young friends, nieces and nephews whose assets need suprervision. If YOU already have a child, then you can appoint a guardian of their person, to act as a parent if both parents die while the child is still a minor.

– YOU can provide for pets, that is who gets a pet and, if desired, providing for pet care funding.

– YOU can eliminate someone in your will. For example, if you have three siblings and only want two siblings to take, the third sibling should be mentioned as not taking under your will. There can be no mistake of your intentions.

– YOU can make charitable gifts. You are not limited to individuals.

– YOU have more assets that you think and will aquire more. Preparing a will today avoids potential chaos in the future.

Should YOU have any questions about a will please contact us.

– Allan Opsitnick

If Voting Made Any Difference

“If voting made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it.”

This quote is attributed to Mark Twain. While I don’t agree, let’s consider that in November’s presidential election. Hillary Clinton received over 2.8 million more votes than Donald Trump, however, Trump won the election.

As we all know, the Constitution provides for election of the president by the Electoral College; see both Article II and the Twelfth Amendment. So while Clinton received a large number of votes more than Trump, though neither candidate received 50% of the popular vote, Trump received significantly more electoral votes than Clinton, 306-232.

The Presidential election marks the fifth time in American history that a presidential candidate won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College vote and therefore the presidency:

1.) 1824: John Quincy Adams was elected President over Andrew Jackson despite losing the popular vote by over 38,000.

2.) 1876: Rutherford B. Hayes was elected President over Samuel J. Tilden despite losing the popular vote by over 250,000.

3.) 1888: Benjamin Harrison was elected President over Grover Cleveland despite losing the popular vote by over 94,000.

The fourth and fifth times the popular vote winner did not become president has been in this century:

4.) 2000: George W. Bush was elected President over Al Gore despite losing the popular vote by over 540,000.

5.) 2016: Donald Trump wins the Electoral College vote over Hillary Clinton despite losing the popular vote by over 2.8 million.

What does this mean? Should the process change? These are questions that should be considered and debated by us all. In fact there is a movement, entitled the National Popular Vote. The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Eleven jurisdictions, ten states and the District of Columbia have already passed this bill. The National Popular Vote bill supposedly is consistent with the Constitution, so no Constitutional amendment is required. The National Popular Vote website is: http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/

According to this website, the National Popular Vote movement has bipartisan support, including support from President Elect Trump in a 2012 statement, though he recently recanted that statement in the wake of his Electoral College victory.

So, let’s ask ourselves two things:

1.) Is it time to change how our President is elected; and

2.) Is Mark Twain correct?

– Allan Opsitnick

Election 2016

In October, I was asked by Professor Joseph Mistick of the Duquesne University School of Law, to lecture to his Election Law class, something that I have done before. This was a privilege, both since Professor Mistick also invites judges and elected officials to speak and as the law students were an attentive group.

My remarks covered some historical background, from distributing and discussing a Pittsburgh Press headline from a September, 1931 primary election reporting about riots in the Pittsburgh area, claims of voting machine malfunctions and a shooting incident between a constable and a police officer in the Scranton, Pennsylvania area. Additionally we reviewed Presidential Election voter turnout percentages through the years. The high water mark was in 1960 with an 87.9% voter turnout. Nine out of ten registered voters voted! Compare that with 2016 voter turnout of 70%.  While there might be more registered voters on the rolls, clearly fewer people vote, both in a presidential election, as well as local elections.

I discussed current election procedures including absentee and provisional ballots, and potential election day issues, such as voter intimidation, firearms at the polls (which is permitted except in schools or court buildings) and the rights and limitations of poll watchers (observe but not to electioneer or affect the voting.)

Concluding my remarks was my statement that there is no voter fraud in Allegheny County. That is, the people that vote are who they are and that they are properly registered and qualified to vote, where they vote.

Election Day 2016 bore my statement out. I have been the attorney for the Allegheny County Division of Elections and the Allegheny County Board of Elections for almost three decades. My task on Election Day is to represent the County, along with other County attorneys, in “Election Court.” A judge is on duty the entire time that the polls are open. Attorneys field hundreds of phone calls from polling places and political groups. Each party and presidential candidate sends legal representation to Election Court. While there were frequent disputes, some of which required a judge to issue an order of court, none of those disputes were unusual and none of those disputes and complaints were regarding “voter fraud.”

Our system of voting works and is fair and honest. There can be human errors and a precious few technical glitches, but those permitted to vote can vote. Those not permitted to vote, do not vote. Every vote is tabulated, both on election night, when unofficial results are publicized, and upon official tabulation by the County Return Board.

While perhaps I have been part of the election system for too long, I ask that you all consider and accept that the voting system works properly.

– Allan Opsitnick

The Power of Your Single Vote

I have been practicing Election Law for most of my practice. As a result, I’ve witnessed many, many instances where a single vote has made a difference in the outcome of an election. Here are just 3 examples:

1) In 2003, the race for a seat on the Pennsylvania Superior Court, came down to these totals:

Ms. Gantman: 1,125,543
Mr. Driscoll: 1,125,515

Yes, a statewide election was decided by 28 votes! 28 votes out of 2.5 million votes cast for these two candidates.

2) In the 2015 primary, an Indiana County Auditor candidate finished in a dead heat, only to lose the nomination in a “casting of lots” tiebreaker.

3) In Allegheny County, municipal elections, those involving City, Borough, Township and School District offices, result in a dozen plus ties each election. Those ties are broken by the drawing of number “pills” from a generations old leather bottle.

How different would these elections have been if just a few people voted? The answer is clear. Your vote does count.

To register to vote in the Presidential Election in Pennsylvania, you must register on or before Tuesday, October 11. Mailed voter registration forms must be postmarked by October 11.

– Allan J. Opsitnick