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Crowdfunding startup speeds U.S. launch thanks to Trump travel ban

By Anna Irrera

By Anna Irrera

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Widespread opposition to U.S. President Donald Trump's immigration curbs has proved a boon for CrowdJustice, a startup that helps individuals and organizations raise money online to fund legal cases.

CrowdJustice, which until now has been based in Britain, this week brought forward the date of its U.S. launch by three weeks to take advantage of various campaigns to defend those subject to the travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries.

"We moved our U.S. launch so that we could go live right after the immigration executive order was announced to give a platform to raise money and support and increase public awareness for legal cases," Chief Executive Office Julia Salasky said in an interview on Thursday.

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Its first U.S. case is aimed at raising funds to help Tareq and Ammar Aziz, two Yemeni brothers who were deported to Ethiopia after arriving at Dulles International Airport in Virginia on Jan. 28, hours after Trump had signed the order.

The "Aziz v. Trump" crowdfunding campaign, which is being led by nonprofit Legal Aid Justice Center, initially aimed to raise $15,000 on CrowdJustice but stretched its target to $60,000 after hitting its first goal in six hours. It has raised $26,946 to date.

Salasky said the platform’s team of 10 is working on a number of other crowdfunding campaigns related to the legal cases on the immigration order, as well as two cases on voting rights.

A former attorney with British law firm Linklaters, Salasky launched CrowdJustice 18 months ago. It has helped raise around $2.5 million in pledges for around 150 cases to date. It charges a 5 percent fee on total raised, as well as a payment processor fees.

One of its most prominent campaigns helped raise 170,550 British pounds ($214,211) to support a legal challenge that resulted in the UK's Supreme Court ruling that the country's government needs parliamentary approval before it can formally start Britain's exit from the European Union.

Unlike the most well-known crowdfunding websites, such as Kickstarter, which generally help businesses or individuals raise money in exchange for products or rewards, CrowdJustice is donation-based. It describes itself as a nonpolitical platform, meaning it does not admit cases based on their content. To be admitted for fundraising, cases must have a lawyer in place.

"It's a time when ordinary people want to be able to come together around legal cases," Salasky said. "With legal cases you have the ability to create a concrete legal impact."

(Editing by Carmel Crimmins and Matthew Lewis)