Philly Teachers Union Fined Over Campaign Finance Violation

The labor group got slapped for making an excess donation to Helen Gym.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan | Photo by Matt Rourke

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan | Photo by Matt Rourke

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has been hit with a $1,500 fine for making an excess campaign donation to education firebrand and Democratic City Council candidate Helen Gym.

The city’s Ethics Board announced Monday that the PFT’s PAC contributed $23,000 to Friends of Helen Gym. Under Philadelphia’s campaign finance laws, political committees can donate only $11,500 each year to a candidate.

The PFT’s PAC did this by first donating $11,5000 on February 5th; then, it donated another $11,500 to the American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania’s PAC, which in turn gave $11,500 to Gym’s campaign on March 9th. This is what’s known as a “pass-through” donation.

Citified reported on the excess contribution in May.

According to the Ethics Board’s settlement agreement with the PFT, union president Jerry Jordan “did not explicitly direct, suggest or request that [the AFT Pennsylvania’s PAC] give $11,500 to Friends of Helen Gym. However, for the purposes of the city’s campaign finance law … the circumstances in which [the PFT’s PAC] made the $11,500 contribution to [the AFT Pennsylvania’s PAC] created an implied suggestion that [the AFT Pennsylvania’s PAC] use those funds to make a contribution to support Helen Gym.”

What are those circumstances? Well, the PFT and AFT Pennsylvania’s PACs have the exact same treasurer. Plus, according to the Ethics Board, Jordan was part of a teleconference in which the executive council of the AFT Pennsylvania’s PAC voted to give $11,500 to Gym’s campaign — and he himself voted in favor of the donation.

To the PFT’s credit, the Ethics Board noted in its settlement agreement that it fined the group less than is permissible under the law due to its “cooperation and prompt resolution of this matter.” The PFT was not immediately available for comment.

It’s important to note that Gym was not accused of any wrongdoing by the Ethics Board. When Citified reported on the shady donation this spring, a spokesman for Gym said that if the PFT had made a pass-through donation, the campaign was in no way aware of it.