Millions of dollars raised for Ethiopian famine victims by a California group using dramatic television ads and a direct mail ad campaign may not have reached the drought-stricken country, it was reported today.
International Christian Aid, whose ads used scenes of children starving in the African nation and poignant descriptions of the drought's effects, said it has not given any direct aid to Ethiopia because the Ethiopian government has not allowed it, the New York Times reported.
A spokesman for the organization, Nello Pinelli, said it is funneling funds to Ethiopia famine victims through a French volunteer group, Doctors Without Borders, the article said.
But that group's director told the newspaper from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, that Doctors Without Borders has not received "one centime " from the Camarillo-based group.
"We spoke with them once in Paris, three or four months ago," Francis Charhon said. "They said they wanted to give us $10,000 worth of medicine. We gave them a list of medicines, which never arrived. So far they have given us nothing, not one centime, but they are welcome to if they want to."
State Department and U.N. relief officials also said they have no evidence the group has provided aid to Ethiopia, the report said.
Pinelli, director of communications for Inter-Aid Inc., the parent group of International Christian Aid, said the rate of contributions has been up in recent weeks since the ads began. He declined to be specific about how much was raised.
But the report quoted an unidentified fund-raising expert familiar with Inter-Aid's operations as estimating that the group's advertising and mail appeals probably had brought in $20 million in the last three months.
Inter-Aid's president and founder, L. Joe Bass, appeared in almost all the ads in a safari suit along with the poignant scenes of the starving in Ethiopia. Some of the ads featured implied endorsements from Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, whose spokesman told the newspaper his name was used without his permission.
Bass, who was said to live in a large waterfront home near Camarillo, was abroad this week and unavailable for comment, the report said.
Government sources in California said the Ventura County district attorney's office is investigating allegations of financial wrongdoings at Inter-Aid, the newspaper reported. It said the charges were brought to the DA's office last summer by two former employees.
Religious organizations are exempt from federal regulations requiring other nonprofit groups to account for the expenditure of contributions and to document whether they they go to the purposes that advertisements claimed.