By finally agreeing to stop the MacDougall money train, Murray may hope to put the mess behind her. But, as sources and documents show, she still has a lot to explain about why this happened in the first place.
“If your average taxpayer knew that you can take $11 million, give it to a couple of friends, with no oversight or supervision, and get away with it, they would go crazy,” says one individual who was directly involved in the bidding process for the state grant. “But that’s what happened.”
Was the fix in?
In late 2003, Murray slipped a $2 million expenditure for marketing international tourism into an economic-stimulus package. The function had previously been handled by state agencies, primarily the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism (MOTT).
But instead of simply giving the $2 million to MOTT to increase international tourism, or authorizing that office to award the contract, Murray’s legislation privatized the function and assigned a tiny, obscure, quasi-public office to select an outside vendor, through a competitive-bid process, to receive the funds. That office, the Massachusetts International Trade Council, had no tourism experience, and had never been responsible for such a large contract, but agreed to handle it, according to those who were there at the time, because the process included an “administrative fee” that would allow the office to stay open, in spite of its recent loss of state funding.
The Trade Council, however, was never really intended to choose the vendor. Instead, in the same stimulus bill, Murray created a 17-member “advisory board” to assist the Trade Council — which Murray believed would select the vendor, as documents and correspondence from the process show. Murray placed herself on that advisory board, along with Bosley, who had become co-chair of the Economic Development committee; the two of them also stacked the advisory board with tourism-industry friends — from her base on the Cape and Bosley’s base in the Berkshires.
There were three bidders competing for the $2 million contract for international-tourism marketing. But Murray and Bosley — both of whom declined to be interviewed for this story — and their hand-picked friends on the advisory council voted for the newly created company of William MacDougall, a North Shore Republican who had been head of international tourism marketing in the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism (MOTT) under Paul Cellucci.
Still, Murray’s plan to appoint MacDougall did not unfold without interruption. The Trade Council took their jobs seriously, raising objections to Murray and co’s unified support of MacDougall. They contended — and the state’s legal authorities concurred — that the power to choose who would receive the money belonged not to the advisory board, but to the Trade Council’s own three-person board of directors. “Someone had failed to give us the notice that the fix was supposed to be in,” says one staffer at the time.
With the state now backing them, the Trade Council’s staff sent its board members a 150-page report meticulously evaluating the bids. That report, which was never released publicly, has been obtained by the Phoenix. Not only did it recommend a different bidder, the Massachusetts Lodging Association (MLA), it concluded that MacDougall’s bid was ineligible — i.e., it did not meet the statute’s criteria.