NCTR urges Pew to cut ties with Arnold Foundation

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Meredith Williams

The National Council on Teacher Retirement is asking the Pew Charitable Trusts to sever its ties with the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which underwrites Pew's Public Sector Retirement Systems Project in Washington.

The letter sent Tuesday to Robert Campbell, chairman of the board of Pew Charitable Trusts in Philadelphia, said that while the public pension project conducts research and provides technical assistance to state and local governments working on pension reforms, “Pew has abandoned its objectivity” by partnering with “a clear advocate of a specific point of view.”

In the letter, NCTR Executive Director Meredith Williams describes the Houston-based Arnold Foundation as advocating abandonment of traditional defined benefit plans in favor of defined contribution or cash balance plans. “I find it informative that in every case of which I am aware, when Pew has worked with a state on pension reform, the solution has been to abandon the DB model and to adopt a cash balance approach,” Mr. Williams wrote.

“This is a deliberate misrepresentation of our views,” Josh McGee, vice president of the foundation's public accountability project, which includes the Pew project, said in an interview. “They are purposefully trying to smear the foundation by claiming that we support something that we do not. We don't think there's a one-size-fits-all solution. We want to maintain the good things about DB plans while also holding governments accountable for paying for their promises.”

Mr. McGee said the NCTR “would rather engage in false attacks than engage in policy.”

Noting that New York PBS station WNET canceled a series on public pension plans underwritten by the foundation after the PBS ombudsman characterized it as an “ethical compromise in funding arrangements and lack of real transparency,” Mr. Williams called on Pew to renounce its partnership with the foundation.

Calls to Pew offices in Washington and Philadelphia were not returned at press time.