I’m promoting a ballot question to set up an agency to investigate and report on conflicts of interest in state government, including heads of executive agencies, elected officials, and candidates thereof as well as for candidates for federal office on the Massachusetts state ballot. This constitutional amendment would mandate financial disclosures such as tax returns, but allow some redactions for privacy protection. More details to support this can be found at Last Tree Laws here.
Why do we need an independent office to conduct investigations and reporting?
All the whistleblowers in the world mean nothing if the public continues to to vote for, thanks to ignorance, and support state and federal officials who have serious conflicts of interest.
First of all, even if a powerful politician decides your backyard would make a great baseball field for his kids or town dump, you will most often depend on big media reporters to tell the story, aside from seeking the services of a lawyer. Setting up your own website may not translate into publicity as it may go unseen and lack funds to remain online. Nor can you or any media outlet easily demand tax returns and financial disclosures to prove conflicts of interest, as seen by Trump’s 2020 campaign. Big media is important to getting publicity, but it is not free.
Billionaires and wealthy interests can buy the news, such as billionaire Rupert Murdoch who owns a vast realm of media from Fox News to the NY Post to iHeartradio. Partisan, wealthy interests are also seeking to dominate reporting of some state news. Any of these parties, if corrupted, can choose to censor or neglect reporting on conflicts of interest and, further, shape opinions against such investigation.
Carlos Slim, at one time owning 17% of the NY Times stock, is reported by Diego Enrique Osorno to be rich from illegal drugs and operating like the mafia. His media investment has likely paid off with a lack of investigation into his own business transactions and political dealings.
Even without corrupt self-interest, when media is owned by big money interests or a single family, there is little incentive to report on conflicts of interest in politics that challenge or threaten their bottom line. The decision not to conduct political investigations can be as simple as sports sells, while investigative reporting is costly and attracts political enemies.
Yet, the people have a right to know about potential government corruption as evidenced by conflicts of interest.
Looking at Massachusetts, the ownership of our papers is not, so far as I know, so corrupt, but is dominated by wealth:
- Boston Globe sold in 2013 to billionaire investor John Henry. The staff at the Globe have recently complained of union-busting tactics.
- Sunday Republican, MassLIVE, Reminder Publications are all owned by Advance Publications, which has a 13% stake in Charter Communications. Advance Publications is owned by the billionaire Newhouse family.
- The Boston Herald, Lowell Sun, Fitchburg Sentinel and Enterprise – all are owned by Digital First Media, a subsidiary of Alden Global Capital which is a hedge fund with a reputation for slashing staff to increase profits.
- The Commonwealth Magazine is owned by nonprofit MassInc and thus is an outlier, yet the funding and the board of directors reflects some dependence on big business and advertisers.
- National Public Radio has also taken a serious hit to its independence thanks to cuts to its budget and requirements to rely on donations and corporate sponsors – leading some to question NPR’s reporting integrity.
We need a fully independent media capable of investigating government, not hampered by lack of staff or funds or fear of reprisal. We need independent investigative reporting, not reporting beholden to the wealthy, the powerful, or anyone else.
This bill is an important step towards creating an opportunity to hold our government accountable.
I saw, after the election, a good comment about a conflict of interest regarding a candidate for office. The candidate did not win office, and so I’m not posting. I do appreciate the comment, but posting post-election seems like kicking someone who is already down.