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Boston 2024 declines to divulge fees to PR firm

John Fish, Chairman of Boston 2024, spoke with the Boston Globe editorial board.
John Fish, Chairman of Boston 2024, spoke with the Boston Globe editorial board.Lane Turner/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The organizers of Boston’s bid to land the 2024 Summer Olympics, who just weeks ago were promising robust transparency, are refusing to provide the financial details of their recent hiring of a high-powered international media relations conglomerate.

Instead, Boston 2024, which construction magnate John Fish chairs, said in a statement to the Globe that it is withholding details of its contract with the public relations firm Weber Shandwick until it develops a “protocol” for disclosing expenditures.

The committee, which is entirely financed through private donations, did not set a timetable for those disclosures. But the plan, according to those familiar with the decision, is to make public quarterly reports that reveal only an aggregate total for media relations, allowing the fees paid to Weber Shandwick and other firms to be kept under wraps.

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The refusal to release the financial arrangements stands in contrast to promises by Fish and other boosters of Boston’s bid for the Summer Games to make timely disclosures of its payments to consultants. When Boston was chosen to compete, Mayor Martin J. Walsh promised the process would be “the most open, inclusive, and transparent process in Olympic history.”

Meanwhile, Fish, who has become a target of Olympic critics, has also put Weber Shandwick on his construction company’s payroll to help him in his presentations for the campaign to host the Summer Games.

Suffolk Construction spokeswoman Kim Steimle Vaughan, saying the contract is “temporary,” said that Weber Shandwick will only work to help Fish on Olympic business, not on Suffolk’s public relations. She said Fish will not release how much the media firm is being paid.

Fish declined to comment, according to Boston 2024 spokeswoman Erin Murphy.

Murphy said that in addition to Weber Shandwick, the group is also adding Boston advertising giant Hill Holliday and Octagon Marketing, a sports marketing firm, to the team. But again she would not say how much they would be paid. The three companies are part of the Interpublic Group, a New York City-based holding company with strong experience in marketing Olympic events.

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“As the bid process becomes much more detailed on the local and global front, we are partnering with the offices of the mayor and attorney general to develop a standard protocol for disclosing our expenditures, one that will demonstrate a commitment to transparency that far exceeds regulatory requirements for nonprofit organizations,’’ Murphy said.

The refusal to provide a prompt disclosure of the fees that Weber Shandwick and the other two firms are being paid appears to be a retreat from Boston 2024’s embrace of transparency two months ago. The Globe repeatedly asked for the amounts for Weber Shandwick’s contract for at least a week before it was given a reason why the figures would not released.

In addition, the dual contracts present an unusual arrangement: Weber Shandwick represents Boston 2024 and also represents Fish personally. That could put Weber in a difficult position if Fish’s personal interests diverge from what Boston 2024 wants. Fish has been facing pressures from some local Olympics promoters to lower his profile.

Micho Spring, president of Weber Shandwick New England, strongly disagrees, saying Fish and Boston 2024 are on the same page and she sees no reason their interests would diverge.

“Our clients’ goals are one and the same — to bring the Olympic Games, and all the benefits that come with them, to Boston. There is no conflict,” Spring said in an e-mailed statement.

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Murphy, the Boston 2024 spokeswoman, also dismissed the potential for conflict.

“We were aware that Weber Shandwick had taken on a temporary communications assignment with Suffolk Construction, and we absolutely consider this an advantage in our ability to collaborate on activities related to John Fish’s involvement as bid chairman,’’ Murphy said.

Michael Goldman, a close Walsh adviser, said that the mayor remains adamant about the need for transparency.

“The mayor has been very clear from the outset that he believes robust transparency is the single most important attribute to gain the public’s trust,’’ Goldman said.

He said Walsh could not yet comment on Weber Shandwick’s hiring because Boston 2024 has not informed the mayor that they hired the communications firm. Nor, Goldman said, has Walsh been briefed on the committee’s decision to work out protocols for releasing expenditures.

It was Walsh who first insisted on strict transparency for the bid process, which he backs. His pressure led Boston 2024 to disclose last month what it is paying staff and consultants, including a proposed $7,500-a-day fee to former governor Deval Patrick as an occasional ambassador. Patrick ultimately said he would not accept the fee.

The committee also revealed that it was paying $44,000 a month to communications consultants, including $15,000 each to Northwind Strategies, overseen by former Patrick aide Doug Rubin, and Keyser Public Strategies, whose president, Will Keyser, is a top political strategist to Governor Charlie Baker.

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Gregory Sullivan, a former state inspector general, said that while Boston 2024 is not legally bound to reveal its expenditures, it has an obligation to do so if it hopes to win critical public support.

“I don’t think it is wise for Boston 2024 to hunker down in a minimalist strategy on transparency because they will inevitably require hundreds of government approvals,’’ Sullivan said. “I think they would be well advised to be upfront and open with respect to their public relations and other expenditures.”


Frank Phillips can be reached at phillips@globe.com.