The ACLU is suing the city of Newark, New Jersey on behalf of parents seeking access to documents about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million grant to public schools. (More)
National Public Radio reports the lawsuit concerns a request for correspondence between Zuckerberg, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, state officials, and others involved in the grant process. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) announced the grant a year ago. Concerned parents filed a request to review the documents in April. The city first said it could not locate the documents and requested extensions, before finally claiming the communications “were not made in the course of the mayor’s official duties.” Just in case, the city added that the documents would be protected by executive privilege regardless.
The parents say they want to know how the $100 million “challenge grant” will be used. Public discussion of the grant also included concerns about a Facebook privacy scandal that emerged last year after a Wall Street Journal investigation found software gaps that allowed third-party applications like the popular Farmville to access users’ personal information.
However, most of the parents’ concern seems to be whether Zuckerberg’s grant comes with strings attached, as did Charles Koch’s $1.5 million grant to Florida State University’s economics department. An investigation by the St. Petersburg Times found that FSU agreed to let the Koch Charitable Foundation “screen and sign off on any hires for a new program promoting ‘political economy and free enterprise.'”
With public schools and universities increasingly forced to seek grants to meet their budgets – a group called SchoolGrants.org now offers suggestions for grant applications, while noting that grants “come with many strings attached and are very time-consuming to prepare and manage” – do we risk turning control of our public schools over to private donors?
Are public officials who solicit these grants acting “in the course of [their] official duties,” and should those communications be subject to executive privilege?