ALAN KHAZEI is a Harvard-trained lawyer and pioneer in the world of nonprofits, having co-founded the widely respected City Year. That means he should have known that paying his brother $40,000 to execute media strategy, write, and set up the Los Angeles office of his latest nonprofit, the Cambridge-based Be the Change, would smell like an inside deal.
In late July, Khazei stepped down as chief executive at Be the Change, an activist group that promotes civic engagement, to run full-time for Senate. It’s his second run for the job, having finished behind Attorney General Martha Coakley and Representative Mike Capuano in the Democratic primary to fill the spot vacated by Senator Edward Kennedy in 2009.
Over the three years he headed Be the Change, he paid his brother Lance, a Hollywood writer, $50 per hour to work intermittently for the nonprofit in California. He didn’t consult the organization’s board when arranging the contract, despite a conflict-of-interest policy that states that officials should do so if they stand to benefit financially “through business, investment, or family.’’ Be the Change said Khazei didn’t violate the policy, because he didn’t personally benefit from his brother’s hiring.
Khazei explained to the Globe that he sought his brother’s help because the two “are very close’’ and Lance is “very talented.’’ So are a lot of other writers, though, and choosing Lance over them should have set off some alarms in Khazei’s mind. His failure to consult the board was a misjudgment which he rightly acknowledged. But the rest of his response - choosing to emphasize family closeness and faith in his own integrity - suggests a blindness to political appearances that’s unusual for a Senate candidate.
In politics and in the nonprofit world, appearances matter. The best response after making a mistake is to acknowledge it, apologize, and move on. That’s not what Khazei did. “It was such a small amount, $50 an hour, $2,500 a month,’’ Khazei told a Globe reporter. In fact, the amount wasn’t so small, and he should have acknowledged his lapse in judgment earlier and more forcefully.