Mayor Nutter Sends Letter To Philadelphia Ethics Board Urging Clarification In William Penn Foundation Rhubarb

williampennlogoPreviously, we reported that in the face of an ethics complaint against them for hiring a consulting firm to lobby the School District of Philadelphia around a controversial plan to restructure public education in Philadelphia, The William Penn Foundation has taken their ball and gone home, suspending their grant-making services to city agencies. This decision by the foundation has caused such ethical, legal and procedural confusion that today Mayor Nutter sent a letter to the Philadelphia Ethics Board, asking it to issue a statement that would resolve concerns raised by the William Penn Foundation in connection with the City’s lobbying registration and reporting ordinance and grant making by non-profits like the Foundation. The Nutter Administration’s position as noted in the letter is that “Grant making by foundations and other philanthropic organizations…is not lobbying.”

I write to urge the Board of Ethics, which regulates and enforces the City’s lobbying ordinance, to clarify that the ordinance does not apply to grants that are made at the request of City Departments or City-related agencies … Funders should not be deterred from continuing their support because of any confusion that their grants constitute lobbying.

The Mayor’s letter to the Ethics Board was in response to a Feb. 7 letter from the William Penn Foundation to the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia, Inc., a non-profit that advances the Mayor’s goals for the City through public-private partnerships. The Foundation said it was suspending new grant making to City-related agencies due to perceived uncertainties related to the lobbying ordinance and its grant making activity. And specifically, the Foundation said it was not able to support “at this time” a grant request from the City for funding the initial design phase of the proposed Bartram’s Mile Riverfront Trail and Park, a proposal supported by the City’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

The Mayor wants to make sure that the Foundation’s decision doesn’t “chill grant-making” to the city and the city-related agencies.” PEB Executive Director, J.Shane Creamer Jr. will present the City’s request at the board meeting Wednesday February, 20th at 1PM, along with a staff proposed response.

One Response to “Mayor Nutter Sends Letter To Philadelphia Ethics Board Urging Clarification In William Penn Foundation Rhubarb”

  1. Helen Gym Says:

    We don’t generally have an issue with the Mayor’s request that the Ethics Board clarifies that grants given to city agencies which request those funds does not constitute lobbying. Our lobbying complaint has nothing to do with this concern. We are nothing but supportive of the important and responsible philanthropy the William Penn Foundation has practiced for years. In fact, if the Foundation had funded the District directly we don’t feel we would have had much legal basis for our complaint.

    But WPF, in the complaint we filed with the Ethics Board, did nothing of the sort. They solicited millions of dollars from private donors, drew up a list of predetermined “contract deliverables” like specifying 60 schools for closure and massive charter expansion, then went and hired the Boston Consulting Group which was paid for and answered to the William Penn Foundation. It is those actions we believe that merit a review by the Ethics Board about whether they constitute lobbying.

    It’s worth noting that Philadelphia was the last major city in the U.S. to adopt a lobbying disclosure ordinance. Our complaint is the first challenge brought under that ordinance which only went into effect last January. We hope that WPF’s heavy-handed response won’t distract or deter the Ethics Board from a fair and impartial review of the merits of our complaint and from determining the important and necessary boundaries of the city’s new lobbying law.

    Thanks for paying attention to this issue, Philebrity!

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