Ethics Board clears foundation grants to city agencies

The city’s Board of Ethics decided Wednesday that foundations can fund projects at the request of city agencies without triggering the city’s lobbying ordinance, which would require them to register and make quarterly financial disclosures.

Mayor Nutter had asked for the ruling last week, after the William Penn Foundation informed the city that it was suspending new grants to city agencies until the issue was clarified.

Nutter had cited ­­two typical grant proposals -- a request to the William Penn Foundation to help fund design work for a new trail on the west side of the Schuylkill, and potential applications to the Bloomberg Philanthropy’s Mayors Challenge, which helps finance creative solutions to urban problems.

“Neither of these examples constitutes an attempt to influence administrative or legislative action,” Nutter said in a letter to the Ethics Board.

The board agreed, voting 4-0 to send a letter with its findings to Mayor Nutter .  

The Ethics Board made no reference to a still-pending complaint filed by the Parents United for Public Schools, regarding the William Penn Foundation’s funding work by the Boston Consulting Group to study school closings and other financial issues for the Philadelphia School District.

The parents’ group contends that in this instance, the foundation was trying to influence the School District’s decision-making and should be required both to register as a lobbying principal and provide details of its arrangements with the consulting firm.