Ethics Board reassures Philadelphia on non-profit grants

    The Philadelphia Ethics Board has assured Mayor Nutter that standard philanthropic grants to city agencies won’t  trigger reporting requirements under the city’s lobbyist registration law.

    Nutter hopes that will chill out the William Penn Foundation and get it back into funding city parks, recreation and library improvements.

    As we reported last week, several city projects were threatened when the foundation froze new grants to city-related agencies in response to an education group’s ethics complaint.  

    Parents United for Public Schools argued that when William Penn hired the Boston Consulting Group to advise the district on school closings and other issues, that amounted to lobbying. The parents sought to force the foundation to file reports under the lobbying disclosure law.

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    William Penn responded by shutting down all grants to city-related projects until it could be sure that such grants would not trigger lobbying rules.

    That was bad news for Mayor Nutter, who has several big projects he wants William Penn’s help on.

    So late last week he wrote a letter asking the Ethics Board to give William Penn some love and tell them routine grant-making for city projects is OK. At an Ethics Board meeting Wednesday, Executive Director Shane Creamer read from a letter he proposed sending to Nutter.

    “Please be advised that under the circumstances you describe, a grant-making entity that funds a city project, as the result of a request by a city department or city-related agency would not be subject to the registration or reporting requirements of the lobbying code,” Creamer said.

    The board quickly approved the letter, assuring the foundation that if it funds things like improving the Ben Franklin Parkway, building the new Bartram’s Garden trail along the Schuylkill, or overhauling neighborhood libraries, it won’t be burdened by the lobbying law.

    William Penn Foundation spokesman Tim Spreitzer said in a statement last night that the foundation “look(s) forward to resuming the Foundation’s thoughtful consideration of grant requests from City departments and City-related agencies, as well as related monitoring activities.”

    But the original complaint against William Penn is still pending with the Ethics Board.

    Cathy Roccia-Meier of Parents United told the board her group never meant to interfere with important city projects, but believes William Penn pushed an education agenda that amounted to lobbying the school district.

    “Today our school district and schools all over the community face incredible turmoil as a result of a plan that the William Penn Foundation funded and supervised,” she said.

    Ethics board members said nothing about the complaint, but it’s expected the ethics board staff will investigate.

    This disclosure: The William Penn Foundations provides funding for Newsworks.

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