William Penn Foundation Did Not Violate Lobbying Law, Ethics Board Rules

William Penn Foundation Did Not Violate Lobbying Law, Ethics Board Rules

The Philadelphia Board of Ethics has cleared the William Penn Foundation of allegations that it violated the city’s lobbying disclosure requirements when it contracted with and funded a consulting firm to develop a restructuring plan for the School District of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

A complaint filed in 2012 by Parents United for Public Education, the Philadelphia Home and School Council, and the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP claimed that the foundation had violated the lobbying code by failing to register as a principal, along with a number of anonymous private donors, on whose behalf the Boston Consulting Group developed a controversial pro-charter school plan for the school district. According to the ruling, issued earlier this month, the board's findings "do not demonstrate that BCG was lobbying the School District on behalf of the Foundation...despite the appearance created by the statements of work."

Although then-foundation president Jeremy Nowak regularly met with district officials, asked questions, and made suggestions about BCG's work, the ethics board wrote, "when a private grantor provides a grant at the request of a public entity, we believe that communication between the grantor and public officials regarding the terms of the grant and compliance with those terms, will not, on its own, constitute lobbying. The analysis might be different if the private grantor seeks to influence a specific administrative or legislative action and provides money to enable the public entity to carry out that action."

Foundation officials "look forward to devoting our full attention and resources to supporting organizations and initiatives that help make Philadelphia a better city," Josh Peskin, a foundation spokesman, told the Inquirer. "We are eager to continue our work in helping to ensure that all children in this city have access to a high-quality education."

In a post on the Parents United for Public Education blog, founder Helen Gym wrote that the organization plans to pursue the influence question. "Locally and nationally, education reform is increasingly being defined by a host of venture philanthropists hovering about and crawling through school districts, using their dollars to demand enormous access and circumvent public process," she wrote. "The law cannot allow for philanthropy to become a backdoor way around traditional protections in the lobbying law."

"Ethics Panel Clears Penn Foundation in Lobbying Probe." Philadelphia Inquirer 12/18/2013. "Ethics Board Letter to Parents United, et.al. re: BCG WPFComplainants 12-6-2013." Philadelphia Board of Ethics 12/06/2013. "Ethics Board responds to Parents United lobbying complaint." Parents United for Public Education Blog 12/16/2013.