The One Fund: Private Wealth and the Distortion of Public Policy
While finishing my MFA Visual Arts thesis this spring, I've been observing the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing and trying to decide what to say about it in a period when I've only had time to write about one editorial a month. Obviously, as I said in my editorial the day of the bombing, everyone on the Open Media Boston staff was shocked and saddened by the cowardly attack on civilians. And our hearts go out to the three victims that were killed and to the 264 victims that were wounded - some maimed for life - plus the MIT police officer that was killed and the Transit Police officer that was critically wounded later that week. But there's been something unsavory about the way Boston's power structure responded to the bombing crisis. So I'd like to quickly review how we got where we are now and then look at some of the problems with that response.
From what we've learned since April 15th, the Marathon bombing was allegedly carried out by two Chechen brothers who had lived, worked, and gone to school in Massachusetts for the last several years. While here, they got attracted to fundamentalist strains of Islam and became devout Muslims. They developed a negative critique of the policies of the United States against many Muslim countries, and decided that as Muslims it was their duty to strike a blow against the US. Given their relative lack of resources and money, they built homemade bombs and set two off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
Four days later, the older brother was dead and the younger brother was in federal custody - severely wounded in one of the wildest running firefights and most massive combined police/military/intelligence responses in Boston history. Those events alone will keep civil liberties organizations busy for years, but I'm not addressing them in this editorial.
Here’s what I am addressing ... one day after the bombing, Mayor Thomas Menino and Gov. Deval Patrick announced the formation of The One Fund for the bombing victims. To date, the fund has raised over $30 million. The money is slated to start being disbursed to bombing victims in the order of the seriousness of their injuries by the end of June.
According to a fine article in the Boston Business Journal
"Mayor Tom Menino and executives from John Hancock, the race’s lead sponsor, teamed up with ad agency Hill Holliday to get the ball rolling the morning after the marathon. It’s no accident that Hill Holliday was involved; John Hancock is a major client, and Menino has strong working relationships with CEO Michael Sheehan and agency co-founder Jack Connors.
"The law firm of Goodwin Procter was quickly recruited to put the organization's legal papers together. Again, this was no accident: Wayne Budd, a former general counsel at John Hancock, is a lawyer there.
"The crew worked quickly to recruit other high-profile businesspeople to the fold that same day, to show potential donors that this thing is real. Hill Holliday’s Connors, Sheehan and Karen Kaplan all agreed to contribute. So did Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan, Boston Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, Bain Capital managing director Steve Pagliuca, and Boston Foundation president Paul Grogan.
"John Hancock ponied up $1 million. So did Bain Capital, AT&T, Partners HealthCare, New Balance and Liberty Mutual. Dozens of other big local employers donated smaller, albeit still hefty amounts."
So Boston's power structure pulled a bunch of money together and rolled out a major professional PR campaign to raise even more money in a bit over a day after the bombing.
Impressive? Sure. Civic minded? Yes. Questionable? Absolutely. On so many levels.
Now why might I say that? Well let's see ... starting with the glaringly obvious, most of the people and institutions named above - with the partial exceptions of Paul Grogan, Tom Menino, Deval Patrick and not-for-profit corporations like Partners HealthCare - are precisely the same kind of go-go capitalists that are ripping this country and planet to shreds on the very altar of private profit that led to the recent Occupy uprising.
"Profit?!" [I hear you say.] "But look at all the money they gave to those poor bombing victims?!"
To which I reply: a) their donations were chicken feed when compared to the money they jointly control, and b) let's think about what the money is for ...
It's mainly for hospital bills.
Would that even be an issue if the US had a fully publicly funded national health care system?
Of course not.
And are a number of the donors in question up to their necks in ensuring that such a system remains permanently off the table in American politics?
Yup. John Hancock and Liberty Mutual for sure. Partners HealthCare on the state level. Many of the others at least peripherally.
Health care is only one issue among many that the big One Fund donors have played a negative role in.
Bad housing policy? Bank of America.
Bad development policy? Suffolk Construction and the big sports teams.
Bad labor policy? New Balance.
Bad telecom policy? AT&T.
Bad, like, everything policy? Bain Capital.
But it gets worse. The thorny issue of race politics also raises its head here.
Our colleagues at the Blackstonian started an interesting project several days after the bombing that throws this issue into bold relief. They combed police records and discovered that there had been over 20 shootings in Boston within two weeks of the bombings. As of last week that tally stands at 33. Most if not all of those shootings happened in poor Boston neighborhoods to black people.
Many were tragic and unexpected. Some of the shootings resulted in deaths. And this has been going on for decades.
So where's their big fund? Where's the concern for all the legions of black shooting victims in Boston? What kind of help do survivors' families get with their hospital and long-term care bills?
Do they get to apply for The One Fund?
Of course they don't.
Such contradictions speak to a larger problem - the distorting effects that private capital has on public goods.
We allow privately held corporations and the individuals that control them to amass huge fortunes (or at least a great deal of power in the case of large not-for-profit corporations), use the money to distort the political process to suit their needs, and then spend the rest as they see fit. Groups they deem worthy, like the Marathon victims, benefit. Groups they deem unworthy get little or nothing. Sorry, poor shooting victims of color. And tough luck, tens of millions of Americans with no health care or substandard health care. Or no or substandard housing. Or no or substandard jobs.
Ironically, the worthy and the unworthy are often the same people. Some of the bombing victims don’t have proper health care or housing or jobs. Now that they’ve been blown up, they’re temporarily worthy of assistance.
Meanwhile, as the privatization of the public sector proceeds apace, the ranks of the erstwhile “unworthy” grows with each passing day.
This state of affairs is precisely the opposite of where it should be in my estimation. An opinion which will come as no surprise to regular viewers of Open Media Boston.
My question is: What are we going to do about it?
Jason Pramas is Editor/Publisher of Open Media Boston