Yesterday's column was about the United States Olympic Committee's financial affairs.
Because the USOC was chartered by Congress, it is required by law to distribute three copies of its financial report each year: one to the president of the United States, one to the vice president and one to the speaker of the House of Representatives.
No copy is made available to the press or the public -- yet a photocopy is before me as I write these lines. You might be interested to know where I got it.
When I was permitted to see (but not copy) the financial statement sent to Vice President Mondale, I "took notes" by reading off columns of figures into a tape recorder.
When I got back to the office, I began to reconstruct the data from my dictation, but found this to be a complicated task. I wasn't at all sure the debits and credits would balance because there were six categories for each entry: general fund, restricted fund, capital assets fund, pension fund, yearly total and three-year total. The supplementary schedule of functional expenses had 18 categories for each type of expenditure.
After a week of slowly transforming a tape recording into something that visually resembled the financial statements I had been permitted to see, I was floundering. Then the Better Business Bureau saved the day.
While doing background research into the USOC's financial affairs, I recalled that the BBB asks organizations that solicit contributions to disclose what they do with the money. So I called BBB and asked whether the Olympic Committee had complied.
It had. And had the USOC met BBB standards for fund-raising costs by keeping them low enough to be judged "reasonable" in relation to contributions? kThe answer was "No." When I asked whether BBB would let me see a photocopy of the financial statement, the response was, "Sure. The BBB always urges donors to seek factual information about organizations that solicit their support."
So the financial statement that previously was available only from the three highest American officials arrived from the Council of Better Business Bureaus just in time to make sense of my tape-recorded numbers.
Some of the more interesting figures in the 1979 report are these:
USOC's total income was $20.4 million, of which $13.1 million is identified as "contributions." Royalty income brought in $3.4 million from 65 companies in return for the right to identify their products with the USOC. The third-highest source of income was $1.2 million in receipts from the National Sports Festival. Olympic Society memberships brought in only $0.9 million.
Total expenses came to $19 million, leaving a profit of $1.4 million. The largest expense was $6.1 million for "fund raising" whereas $3.5 million was spent on "sports development." General and administrative expenses came to $1,658,823.
Even with the photocopies from the BBB before me, I can form no judgement about these entries. I don't know what "sports development" includes, or should include. Nor does the $4.1 million listed for "travel and transportation" tell me who traveledor whether the funds were wisely or unwisely spent. The entry of $3.1 million for "promotional materials" is similarly unrevealing. The fact that USOC owns stocks, bonds and other investments worth $3.7 million is interesting, but I have no idea whether this is too much, too little or just the right amount for USOC to have stashed away for a rainy day.
If the full financial statements were available to them, people who are skilled in dealing with such matters might be able to make some judgements about how well or how poorly USOC spends its money. But it would take columns of space to publish all the figures, so nobody does it. USOC spending records are not given critical review by the press, the public, the Congress, the White House, the General Accounting Office or by any other agency of the government.
I think that Congress has a responsibility to take a fresh look at the operating rules it has set up for nonprofit organizations, and that any reformation of these rules should be designed to let the American people know what is going on. The public has supported Olympic activities at the box office and through voluntary contributions. A full accounting of all USOC income should be easily available to every member of the public.