Back in March, when Rich Davey and the rest of the Boston 2024 gang were making the rounds with the media, he liked to describe the organization as the “most transparent nonprofit in Massachusetts.”
He told us that at the Globe, and then he repeated it around town. All the while I just shook my head.
Davey faced a low bar because our state law does not require nonprofits such as Boston 2024, which is organizing the region’s Olympics bid, to disclose much. In once-a-year filing, public charities list only their five highest-paid staffers and contracts but don’t have to disclose who their donors are.
Fast-forward to Friday, when Boston 2024 went a long way to actually becoming the most transparent nonprofit in Massachusetts. The group organizing the region’s Olympic bid said it will file quarterly reports, itemize staff salaries, contracts, and expenses, and even provide dollar ranges of contributions. The group also pledged it would no longer accept donations from companies that want to remain anonymous.
How did that happen? Well, Boston 2024 didn’t exactly decide to open its books on its own. It got stuck between a rock and a hard place — better known as Mayor Marty Walsh and Attorney General Maura Healey.
Walsh, who has the most riding on the failure or success of our Olympic quest, pushed Boston 2024 to disclose more salaries after the group refused to say how much it was paying former governor Deval Patrick.
We all remember what happened next. Patrick’s $7,500-a-day stipend did not go over well, and he ended up agreeing to work for free.
Left on its own, Boston 2024 would probably disclose as little as possible because the group has another master: the United States Olympic Committee and its culture of secrecy. It was the USOC that ordered the local committee to redact parts of its bid, fearing that releasing every detail would put Boston at a competitive disadvantage.
But the mayor knew the bid could not win without gaining the public’s trust, and he found an ally in Healey. She understood that the state laws governing charities, which her office regulates, were not strong enough to force Boston 2024 into the kind of full disclosure that would allow political leaders, lawmakers, and the public to decide whether the Games were worth pursuing.
Healey also saw Boston 2024 as a charity like no other — and that it should be held to a higher standard. The group may be privately funded, but it’s playing with the public agenda.
Behind the scenes, her office worked closely with the mayor’s team for months to press Boston 2024 to disclose more than required. Healey’s chief of staff, Corey Welford, and his counterpart in the mayor’s office, Dan Koh, were in touch a few times a week on this issue alone.
Healey also talked directly with the mayor and Boston 2024 chairman Steve Pagliuca.
“We pushed very hard from the outset,” Healey said. “There was a realization they are not your average charity.”
Healey also sensed that Boston 2024 needed a little pressure.
“I personally have been disappointed with many aspects of the rollout,” she said. “This was an opportunity to turn the page.”
She wouldn’t get into sticking points, only to say “there was healthy tension” over what Boston 2024 would disclose. She would have liked the group to release exact donor contribution amounts, instead of a range. For example, the top donor in the first quarter was former Boston 2024 chairman John Fish and his wife, Cyndy, who were listed as giving between $1 million and $2.5 million.
But overall, Healey was pleased with the disclosures Boston 2024 made in its first-quarter report, released Friday.
“It was quite robust,” she said. “I feel very good about the level of transparency.”
Healey, like Governor Charlie Baker, is waiting to see a formal plan before deciding if hosting the Summer Games is a good idea.
“As big a sports fan as I am, I am a bigger fan of the city and of the state,” said Healey, who played basketball at Harvard and professionally in Austria. “I am waiting to be convinced.”
Healey’s role in the Olympics is just beginning. The attorney general will need to sign off in September on any ballot question related to hosting the Games.
Evan Falchuk, the former gubernatorial candidate who now runs the United Independent Party, has been working with her office on the language for his ballot initiative. He wants to ensure that no taxpayer money is used for the Olympics, unless it is related to upgrading transportation infrastructure.
Boston 2024 officials initially opposed a referendum but now support putting the question of an Olympics before the voters. The group hasn’t decided whether to sponsor its own question, support another initiative, or work with the Legislature to put a measure on the ballot.
This raises the possibility that there could be more than one question about the Olympics on the November 2016 ballot. Would Healey allow that?
“It’s important that there be clarity for the voters,” Healey said. “You want to make sure they are not confused.”
In other words, folks should try to work it out.
“I would hope that to the extent there are multiple proponents out there that they can come together with something that is sensible and easy to understand to the voters,” Healey said.
Let’s hope the attorney general continues to keep the air clear on the Olympics.