Several weeks ago, a reader posed a question that stumped me.
She said, "Now that the Summer Olympic Games are over, can you tell me how the U.S. Olympic Committee made out financially?"
When I put her question to our Washington Post library, I was told there was nothing filed in that category. My colleagues in our sports department said they didn't recall the USOC ever putting out a financial report, but they gave me the name of the committee's press spokesman and suggested that I take the question to him.
Could it be that a nonprofit group that solicits contributions from the public makes no accounting to the public? I couldn't believe that, so I, phoned the press spokesman at USCO headquarters in Denver, identified myself and my affiliation with The Washington Post, and asked, "Does the United States Olympic Committee make public an annual financial statement?"
"Of course it does," was the disdainful reply. "As required by law, the committee issues an annual financial statement."
"Good," I said. "Where can I obtain a copy?"
"There are three copies," he said solemnly. "One goes to President Carter, one to Vice President Mondale, and one to Speaker of the House O'Neill."
No copies for the press or public? Apparently if I wanted to know how much the USOC takes in, spends, or has to bank, I'd have to ask the president, vice president or speaker to let me look at his copy.
And I do mean look, because that's what I was limited to. Read on.
I checked with the White House, with Mondale's office in the Senate, and with the speaker's office in the House. In no case did it require more than two phone calls to establish that the USCO financial statement had indeed been recieved, had been sent to the General Accounting Office for auditing, and subsequently had been returned for filing.
The speaker's office said the report was available for inspection during office hours, but no photocopies would be provided, nor would permission be given for photocopies to be made in some other place.
I tried Mondale's office next and was given a similar response. "But financial reports involve long columns of figures," I argued. "If I merely look at them, there would be grave danger that I would not report the figures accurately. Could I bring along my little Minox camera and take a picture of each page in natural light -- no flash?"
"No," was the answer. "Sorry. That is not permitted. You can look at the report, but you can't make a copy by any process."
Finally I tried the White House, where Ray Jenkins said the USOC financial report had been recieved and he didn't think there would be any objection to my being furnished with a copy of it. But he suggested that I clear it with Joseph N. Onek, the deputy legal counsel.
My heart sank. I know what happens when one asks a lawyer for permission to do something. And Onek ran true to form. He declined to let me have a copy of the report. "But it's a public document," I protested. "Congress requires USCO to file an annual report to make sure that a nonprofit organization chartered to solicit the public for contributions will later give the public an accounting of how the monwy was spent." But Onek did not find my argument persuasive. He said he'd think about it and call me back.
When three weeks passed with no call from Onek, I phoned GAO to ask what its audit of the USOC financial statement had revealed.
"If you mean did the numbers add up," I was told, "we can't answer that because we didn't do that kind of audit on it. We just gave it what we call a 'desk audit.' That means we just checked through the documents to make sure the committee filed what it was supposed to file."
Had GAO kept a copy I could see? No, GAO had no copy.
There was only one thing left to do. I went up to Capital Hill and asked to see Mondale's copy. It was brought to me at once, and I was permitted to read it.
The first thing I noticed was that, under "Income," contributions were listed as $13,143,919, and that under "Expenses," the largest sum by far was "fund raising," which was listed at $6,098,860.
I will have more details on the USOC financial statement tomorrow.