The effort to bring the 2024 Summer Olympics to Boston sometimes seems conceived in secrecy and dedicated to the proposition that disclosure is a courtesy occasionally granted rather than something the public has a right to expect on a timely basis. The latest example: the refusal by Boston 2024, the group leading the Olympic effort, to give a full accounting of its financial affairs.
Last year, Boston 2024 refused even to say what it was paying then-president Daniel O’Connell. Things have improved since then, but only somewhat. Pushed by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, the group recently made public the substantial sums it is paying its various staffers and consultants.
But the organization still hasn’t been transparent about its donors, which is equally important. Instead, it has listed the various businesses, foundations, organizations, and individuals that have donated — almost 100, if husbands and wives are counted separately — without specifying how much each has contributed.
Now, given the range of enterprises represented among those donors, it’s certainly possible to envision the Olympics being a business-generating opportunity for some of them. Further, the lack of detail about who gave how much leaves this question: Is this effort, which raised $12 million last year and has already collected $11 million in 2015, funded primarily by a handful of donors, or does it truly have a broad base of financial support?
When asked for that specific information, however, Boston 2024 refused to release it, noting that it has already made more information public than is legally required. And technically, that’s correct, given the group’s legal status as a charitable organization.
But this is not an ordinary charitable group, whose agenda, concerns, and activities are more or less confined to beneficiaries or those who otherwise choose to be involved with its cause. Instead, it’s an organization that has embarked on a quest to commit Boston to a major multiyear undertaking that, if successful, will culminate in hosting the 2024 Summer Games. With plans still hazy and details scant, it’s fair to say that that undertaking could end up leaving taxpayers with financial exposure. Further, Boston 2024 will be pushing to prioritize the funding of public projects that dovetail with its plans above those that don’t.
“If they are truly interested in trying to regain or build support, it can’t appear to be some sort of cabal by a group of rich people,” says Secretary of State William F. Galvin. “You really have to go that extra step.” So, too, should the various groups opposing the Olympics bid, even though their expenses will likely only be a fraction of Boston 2024’s.
On its website, Boston 2024 certainly talks the talk. One of its principles is this lofty statement: “We will do our due diligence in an open, honest, and transparent manner.”
That certainly hasn’t been the case so far. If Boston 2024 expects to enjoy public confidence, that needs to change.