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Corruption is What Makes Philly

15 May

In the run-up to the Democratic convention, the 2016 Democratic National Convention Host Committee launched #WhatMakesPhilly, “a social media campaign to energize Philadelphians about the Convention coming to town and highlighting what makes the city the unique.”

#WhatMakesPhilly Campaign Announced

What makes Philly unique? It continues to live down to its reputation as “corrupt and contented.” One of the longest serving congressmen, Chaka Fattah, is now serving time in federal prison. City Council Majority Leader Bobby Henon is under FBI investigation.

Bobby Henon FBI Raid - 8.5.16

District Attorney Seth Williams, who no longer has a law license, is under indictment. One of the candidates running in the May 16 primary election to succeed him is in debt up to his eyeballs.

Tariq's Tax Liens

And we now know the real winner of the host committee’s #WhatMakesPhilly social media campaign was the committee’s executive director, Kevin Washo. Last week, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Washo paid himself a $310,000 bonus:

On Nov. 25, all 12 of the host committee staff received bonuses. In addition to Washo’s $310,000 check, rewards ranged from $13,357 for the office manager, who was paid $3,000 monthly, to $220,000 for the chief financial officer, who was paid about $8,000 monthly.

In the host committee’s report to the Federal Election Commission, Washo’s bonus is described as “Consulting Services-Political.” On Dec. 23, 2016 — five months after the convention ended — he collected $13,805.96 in “salary.” By then, Washo had already been hired by powerhouse law firm Cozen O’Connor “to assist clients with government relations across Pennsylvania as well as in Washington, D.C., and New York.”

Cozen - Kevin Washo

Washo may soon need a lawyer.

Philadelphia Magazine detailed the other bonuses.

Philly Mag - Staff Bonuses

The nearly $1 million in bonuses were authorized by Host Committee Chairman Ed Rendell. Philly’s culture of corruption is so embedded that Rendell, a former mayor and governor, brazenly said:

No donor did this out of the kindness of their heart. They all wanted access. They got exactly what they donated for. No donor should feel cheated.

Why should donors “feel cheated?” After all, they received “access” and a tax deduction. Millions of dollars of donations to the host committee were funneled through the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau Foundation. The financial scheme appears to violate the absolute prohibition on political campaign intervention by a Section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. The bonuses also facially violate IRS rules against self-dealing.

So on Mother’s Day, I decided to file a complaint about these greedy mothers (half the word) with the IRS and the Federal Election Commission. When I visited the host committee’s website to find out who was on the board of directors, I discovered the site has been partially wiped clean (perhaps “with a cloth or something”), including its home page, sponsors and area partners.

Also on Sunday, Gov. Tom Wolf issued a statement denouncing Rendell and Washo for not returning the $4 million surplus to the state:

I am disappointed that when the host committee discovered there was a surplus, the first call was not to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to discuss returning the money to the taxpayers. The commonwealth supports large events that have an economic benefit to Pennsylvania and the region, but when there is leftover funding, that money should be returned to taxpayers. I am disappointed that the surplus was instead spent on bonuses and grants.

Wolf requested that Auditor General Eugene DePasquale review the host committee’s audit report.

UPDATE: Three Republicans — Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Browne — have called for an audit. In a letter to Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, they wrote:

The revelations over the past several days are particularly troubling. It is undisputed that the DNC had no less than $4 million I unencumbered funds upon completion of the event. A small group of individuals including former Governor Rendell chose to allocate the excess on targeted special interest initiatives and exorbitant bonuses, one greater than $300,000. We were not contacted at any point by the officials at the DNC, the Governor’s Office, or DCED (who administered the grant) about the surplus. No efforts were made to return any portion of the surplus to the Commonwealth.

Kevin Washo and the other host committee staff will have to use their taxpayer-funded windfall to pay for lawyers.

Stay tuned.

Charter Schools Are Part of the Solution

19 Sep

Last week, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation held its 46th Annual Legislative Conference.

alc16_maingraphic

I am a policy wonk and longtime “CBC Week” attendee. In DC, policy positions typically follow the money. So I was wary of CBCF ALC education sessions in light of the fact that the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association are conference sponsors.

Congressman Bobby Scott, Ranking Member on the Committee on Education and the Workforce, hosted the Education Braintrust.

education-braintrust

The focus of the braintrust was “evidence-based programs and best practices for increasing black children’s opportunity for success in today’s education and workforce systems.” Rep. Scott asked presenters to do more than “celebrate the problem.” He called on them to offer solutions. So surely someone would offer charter schools as a solution. No one did.

I dutifully took notes as speaker after speaker extolled the importance of parental involvement. Dr. George McKenna noted that the California Department of Education mandates family engagement.

Although parental involvement is the hallmark of charter schools, speakers dare not say their name at a conference sponsored by the AFT and NEA.

In his remarks at the CBCF 46th Annual Phoenix Awards Dinner, President Barack Obama spoke about his legacy.

Part of Obama’s legacy is his support for charter schools:

During National Charter Schools Week, we celebrate the role of high-quality public charter schools in helping to ensure students are prepared and able to seize their piece of the American dream, and we honor the dedicated professionals across America who make this calling their life’s work by serving in charter schools.

Charter schools play an important role in our country’s education system. Supporting some of our Nation’s underserved communities, they can ignite imagination and nourish the minds of America’s young people while finding new ways of educating them and equipping them with the knowledge they need to succeed. With the flexibility to develop new methods for educating our youth, and to develop remedies that could help underperforming schools, these innovative and autonomous public schools often offer lessons that can be applied in other institutions of learning across our country, including in traditional public schools.

[…]

Charter schools have been at the forefront of innovation and have found different ways of engaging students in their high school years — including by providing personalized instruction, leveraging technology, and giving students greater access to rigorous coursework and college-level courses. Over the past 7 years, my Administration’s commitment of resources to the growth of charter schools has enabled a significant expansion of educational opportunity, enabling tens of thousands of children to attend high-quality public charter schools. I am committed to ensuring all of our Nation’s students have the tools and skills they need to get ahead, and that begins with ensuring they are able to attend an effective school and obtain an excellent education.

The failure to include charter schools among best practices to prepare black boys and girls for lifelong success does not do justice to President Obama’s legacy.

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