Brian McGrory or Jack Flynn?

It’s great to have Brian McGrory back writing for The Boston Globe, but sometimes I wonder whether he forgets he’s writing a metro column and not a novel featuring his intrepid Boston newspaper reporter Jack Flynn.

As you may recall, McGrory stopped writing his metro column three years ago and assumed the post of deputy managing editor in charge of local news. The move helped rally a dispirited newsroom, but McGrory’s voice in the paper was sorely missed, and so it was good news when it was announced in December that he was returning to his perch on the left side of the metro section. 

His first several columns have all been great reads, particularly the one that appeared the day after Scott Brown’s victory in the US Senate race. McGrory likened the Massachusetts electorate to a fickle lover swept away by all the attention from Brown, the handsome bad boy. “We were on the dance floor, Scott and I, moving to the music, his hands all over my body politic. Everyone was watching, and I mean everyone – fellow partygoers, bartenders, passersby staring in the windows. Look at me, the Massachusetts electorate, the bellwether of America!”

But today’s column about Attorney General Martha Coakley’s pursuit of garden clubs seems way off mark. Coakley apparently sent garden clubs a notice that they had to register with her charities division. McGrory took exception, suggesting that the request for records was too burdensome and just plain nonsense. At one point he wrote that “an Al Qaeda takeover is the only reason I can think of to explain why the state’s top law enforcement officer is cracking down on garden clubs.”

It’s a nice line, but a cheap one. It’s something McGrory’s fictional reporter Jack Flynn might say as he tracks down the big story. But in McGrory’s novels the issues are often simple and straightforward. There is little of the gray that reporters often find in dealing with real-life political and policy issues.

Garden clubs solicit money from the public through donations and any nonprofit raising money through donations is required to file supporting paperwork with the attorney general’s charities division. That paperwork may seem burdensome, but it is part of a much broader effort by the state to disclose to the public how much money charities are raising and what they are doing with it.

It’s information that comes in handy when a charity group calls looking for a donation. Many local police and firefighter charities, for example, hire companies to raise money for them. Those companies typically end up pocketing anywhere from 60 to 90 cents of every dollar they raise. That’s information you can use when you’re deciding whether to donate.

Bruce Mohl is editor of CommonWealth magazine.

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