Can Donors Sue Harold Camping?

Family Radio has solicited millions from donors over the years and reportedly spent over $100 million on advertising for the May 21 Judgment Day.

But now that the "guaranteed" rapture didn't happen, people are wondering: Can Harold Camping or Family Radio be sued? Did they do anything illegal in soliciting donations based on the rapture prediction? And do donors have legal ground to sue the discredited prophet?

Probably not, says an executive of Charity Navigator, which evaluates over 5,500 of America's largest charities. The charity evaluator rated Family Radio as a 4-star charity, the highest possible ranking.

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Sandra Miniutti, vice president of Charity Navigator, told The Christian Post she doesn’t think that Family Radio committed any wrongdoing, from a financial standpoint.

"They believed that the rapture was going to happen. I don't think they did anything illegal," Miniutti said Tuesday.

She said Charity Navigator doesn't evaluate a non-profit's mission, only its financial performance in the spending on its program, administration, fundraising, and efficiency in fundraising.

"We rate charities based on their financial performance. We don't make subjective assessments on the value of their mission. We just look on their financial performance," said Miniutti.

Based on her knowledge so far, Family Radio has used its donations where it was intended, on billboards and on public relations campaigns advertising the May 21 Judgment Day.

The Christian Post learned that Harold Camping spent around $100 million to advertise his May 21 end times prediction, according to Matt Tuter, Family Radio’s international projects manager.

Tuter told The Christian Post that most of the money did not come from donations, but from the sale of property – more specifically, KFTL television and an FM station.

"My understanding is that they were soliciting money to help people understand the word of God," commented Miniutti. "They spent it on what they intended to spend it on."

"Donors would only have a recourse if the charity was soliciting for one thing but spent it on something else."

Tuter also told CP that most of the staff at Family Radio, including himself, are not followers of Camping and do not believe in his Judgment Day predictions.

Miniutti acknowledged, "It's unethical if people doing soliciting didn't believe that the rapture wasn't going to happen in the first place."

However, Miniutti pointed out that donors should also do their due diligence in checking out charities' overall health before giving money.

"We believe that donors should check three things: financial performance, the charity's transparency and what the charity's actual results are, whether it's lasting change in the world," she said.

Charity Navigator currently doesn't evaluate a charity's transparency or results but will in the near future, she added.

When Miniutti was asked whether "false advertising" of the rapture could provide legal grounds for a lawsuit against Family Radio, she said a lawyer would better answer that question.

But she did suggest that if Family Radio got away with Camping's 1994 Judgment Day prediction, there is no reason they couldn't do the same in 2011.

"If it's legal in ‘94, it's probably legal again."

On Monday, in his first public address since the failed rapture, Camping touted Family Radio’s efficiency and honesty when it comes to money.

“We’re not in the business for money,” he said, stressing that he does not receive any compensation.

He said the contributions the organization receives are all directed toward one purpose: to get the Gospel out. “Every nickel has been spent as fairly as possible, as efficiently as possible,” he maintained.

Commenting on some of his followers and other listeners who spent their life savings to advertise Camping’s Judgment Day prediction or quit their jobs, he said the organization never advised them on financial matters and he refused to take any responsibility for their current situations.

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