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Philly candidate who blasted money in politics gets excessive campaign donation

By   /   July 24, 2015  /   No Comments

By Evan Grossman | Watchdog.org

A candidate for Philadelphia City Council who has railed against money in politics received an excessive donation from the local teachers union, investigators have found.

Earlier this year, Gym spoke sharply against campaign finance and slammed mayoral candidate Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams for accepting support from the Susquehanna International Group, a quantitative trading firm based in Bala Cynwyd that supports school choice.


DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO: City Council candidate Helen Gym has made ethics a key issue in her run for office, but her campaign was found to have received an excessive contribution from the local teachers union.

The city ethics board found the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ political action committee contributed twice the legal limit to Gym’s campaign. PFT made the campaign donations through another PAC, the American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania Committee to Support Public Education.

“As a mother of three children in our public schools, I find it appalling that three suburban billionaires have more influence over the direction of education in Philadelphia than parents like me,” Gym said in April. “These ultra-rich bankers have a purely ideological agenda, a track record of supporting radical right-wing causes, and are wielding tremendous influence over children they will never know, in a city they don’t live in. This is not good for democracy, and the public needs to be aware of their motives.”

Two weeks after those comments, AFT President Randi Weingarten campaigned for Gym in Philadelphia. AFT, which recently endorsed Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid, plans to spend more than $20 million on political campaigns this year.

In Philadelphia, a political committee cannot contribute more than $11,500 per year to a candidate for city office, including contributions made through one or more political committees. PFT President Jerry Jordan and Treasurer Jack Steinberg wrote Gym’s campaign a check for $11,500 on Feb. 9, which should have maxed out the local union’s contribution.

But on Feb. 26, Jordan and Steinberg signed a check to the state-level AFT unit to cover a second $11,500 donation to the campaign.

“Mr. Jordan did not explicitly direct, suggest, or request” that AFT Pennsylvania give $11,500 to Gym, according to the ethics board report. However the circumstances surrounding the second donation “created an implied suggestion” that “AFT-PA use those funds to make a contribution to Gym.”

The PFT’s fine was originally set at the standard $2,000, but the city knocked off $500 because officials said the union cooperated with investigators.

Gym did not respond to multiple requests to comment on this story, and the PFT declined comment. The city board of ethics said it would make no additional comments on its ruling, refusing even to clarify whether it had asked Gym’s campaign to return the contribution.


Evan was formerly a Pennsylvania-based education reporter for Watchdog.org.