On Friday Boston.com profiled the three young professionals (Chris Dempsey, Kelley Gossett, Liam Kerr) heading No Boston Olympics in They Just Don’t Want the Boston Olympics. There is one important paragraph in the story and here it is:
“No Boston Olympics has faced some criticism. At every turn, the group has called on Boston 2024 to be transparent. But when asked by the Globe in March to reveal its own donors, the group declined to do so. While Kerr called the point a “good clean hit,” No Boston Olympics is holding that position, and won’t even say how many donors it has or the amount of money it has raised. Dempsey said that position could change.”
Both Boston 2024 and No Boston Olympics are private organizations and there is no legal requirement that either divulge their funders now. There will be if and when they form committees on the 2016 ballot referendum. Nonetheless, the Boston 2024 vs. No Boston Olympics contest is a huge public policy contest unfolding and one interested party – the citizenry - has no idea who is bankrolling either side.
Dempsey explained the reluctance to reveal the money sources as a defense against the powerful Boston elites backing Boston 2024. Plausible. It also serves the David vs. Goliath narrative some in the media have cheerfully adopted. Yet we don’t know who the Goliath is here, do we? We presume we know Boston 2024 is – Boston.com willingly bought the notion that Boston 2024 would vastly outspend No Boston Olympics on the referendum – but we don’t know that.
There is a another opposition group involved, No Boston 2024. That group is more grass roots and neighborhood based. No Boston Olympics is fronted by well educated and savvy operatives. Dempsey just separated from Bain & Company, heretofore not recognized as an incubator of populist uprisings.
Kerr knows a few things about hidden money, since he heads Democrats for Education Reform. That group was involved in spending on behalf of John Connolly and against Marty Walsh in 2013, according to a Boston Globe story on November, 1. 2013, “A Money Spurt on Walsh’s Behalf.” That story reported that in June 2013 Democrats for Education Reform filed a required report that noted its largest contributor was Education Reform Advocacy Now, which kicked in $25,000. The group put in another $80,000 in July and August. “The board chairman is Charles H. Ledley, a hedge fund analyst who was a consultant at Bain & Company.” (Outside groups for Walsh outspent those for Connolly).
In November 2013 a Globe op-ed noted that Democrats for Education reform had spent $1.3 million for Connolly. In a January 2014 Globe story ”No Part in Walsh Ad, Teachers Say,” Democrats for Education Reform was identified as “a New York nonprofit that does not disclose its donors.”
In other words, Kerr knows a thing or two about dark money. According to the Boston.com story he met Dempsey at a Bain recruiting retreat (Kerr never worked for Bain).
The Olympic referendum would be on the ballot in 2016. Mayor Walsh, who has gone all in for the Boston Olympics, would run for re-election in 2017.
Why all the secrecy? At least one study, by political scientists Conor M. Dowling of University of Mississippi and Amber Wichowsky of Marquette shows that “that voters may discount a group-sponsored ad when they have more information about the financial interests behind the message.” Outside groups understand this.
The public doesn't need the press to give us glowing tributes to young professionals. We need the press to follow the money. It's the political story of our time.
We can have dark money driven politics; or we can have democracy. But we can’t have both.