A spokeswoman for the Commonwealth Foundation says that the group will be present at a Philadelphia Federation of Teachers protest tomorrow to launch their PFTFails.com campaign, but said the group is not an "astroturf counter protest."
"We hired 12 people to come down to hold banners for us and pass out fliers," said Cindy Hamill, director of strategic communications at the Commonwealth Foundation, a Harrisburg-based free-market think tank. "We wanted to bring information to the rally about how the PFT has been failing teachers and students and how they're standing in the way of teachers and students."
The Declaration posted screenshots of an ad posted to a Facebook group called "Brand Ambassadors of Philadelphia" seeking people to stage a "counter protest" of a PFT demonstration scheduled for Thursday afternoon outside of School District of Philadelphia headquarters. A website for the group, PFTFails.com, is registered to an employee of the Commonwealth Foundation.
However, Hamill said that the Commonwealth Foundation's decision to have a presence at the rally tomorrow is not a secret, and acknowledged that they hired Go Gorilla Marketing to help organize that presence.
"The Commonwealth Foundation purchased PFTFails.com. ... We'll have materials on the site when it launches tomorrow morning," she said.
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers is planning a protest Thursday afternoon outside the School District of Philadelphia in response to the School Reform Commission's cancellation of teachers' contracts, announced last Monday.
“It’s interesting that their cause is so just they have to pay people to come spread their message,” said Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) spokesman George Jackson in response to the Commonwealth Foundation's plans. “We’ll have thousands of people coming out tomorrow for free because they want to hear the truth.”
Protests have been held by teachers, parents, students and their supports almost every day since the cancellation was announced.
The Facebook ad for the Commonwealth Foundation's event lists 12 positions, paying $120 for two team leads, $100 for eight brand ambassadors and $40 for two back-ups. Participants are instructed in the ad to wear street clothes and told they will be provided with signs upon arrival.
Hamill however said the ad incorrectly calls the event a "counter protest" and said this is not an example of "astro-turfing," or paying to present a paid-for, falsified grassroots group.
"We in no way are hiring people to misrepresent or pretend they're someone else. We just don't have enough hands to hold banners and pass out flyers. We're a small organization," Hamill said.