Real Conflict of Interest Reporting ~ Petition Initiative Needed

We need 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.

In Massachusetts, to get any kind of access to reported conflicts of interest, an individual must provide a driver’s license and information is provided to the official about who is asking. This is obviously intimidation at odds with democracy. Further, all conflicts of interest are self reported, without verification. Plus, what counts as conflicts of interest seems questionable to me – more should be included. Plus, we lack enforcement. Plenty of government officials have relatives and friends whose finances would be influenced by their decisions, yet nothing is done as far as enforcement.

In Holyoke, I’ve heard reports that a prior mayor allowed code violations at the property of a paramour. Ordinary people cannot address such favoritism or safety violations. I’ve listed conflicts of interest that existed for former governor Baker as well – those conflicts of interest continue to harm our public education system.

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 – after all, Google may not like you. 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.

Many media outlets are struggling financially, with the billionaires stepping in to save the newspapers, like the NY Times, LA Times, Newsweek, and other print media.

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.

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Kirstin Beatty