A Texas congressman is asking the U.S. Department of Education (DoE) to investigate funding that foreign entities have bestowed on the University of Pennsylvania.

Last week, U.S. Representative Lance Gooden (R-TX-5) authored a letter to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in which he noted that $51 million flowed to the Philadelphia Ivy League university from non-American sources in 2021 and 2022. Of those donations, $14 million came from unnamed Chinese or Hong Kong entities and $2.4 million came from Saudi Arabia. 

The congressman observed that those amounts came after President Joe Biden reversed prior federal policy whereby the DoE would disclose the names of foreign university donors and contract payers. Failing to publicize these organizations during his presidency fosters an atmosphere of “dark money and corruption,” Gooden reasoned. 

Money that Penn received from Chinese corporations prior to Biden taking office has already been a subject of controversy. From 2017 to 2019, Biden was a nominal Penn professor and de facto head of the Penn Biden Center, a D.C.-based foreign policy think tank associated with the university. During those three years, Chinese gifts and contract payments to Penn totaled $61 million; over one-third of that money came from sources the school reported as “anonymous.” 

Those funds received renewed national focus in light of the recent discovery that the center, which the former vice president used as his main D.C. office, housed classified federal records. Gooden insists the public has a right to demand answers as to who gained access to the think tank and the documents Biden stored there. 

“On day one, the Biden Administration broke its promise to run the most transparent government in history by conveniently withdrawing a policy of publishing the identities of foreign donors to American universities,” Gooden said in a statement. “Now it’s clear why, since the Penn Biden Center likely received financial contributions from Chinese entities while simultaneously storing classified documents. This administration continues to jeopardize our national security by disregarding crucial policies that protect the American people from malign foreign influence, and we must investigate the damage caused by President Biden’s negligence.”

The congressman referenced a provision of the Higher Education Act requiring all American universities collecting government aid to report any foreign contributors of gifts worth $250,000 or more. Some watchdog organizations such as the National Law and Policy Center have asserted Penn is itself acting counter to federal law by describing numerous donations from Chinese corporations as anonymous.

“This law balances academic freedom and national security, and it is our hope that the University of Pennsylvania and other institutions connected to the Biden Administration remain transparent so the American people can confidently say the Biden family and this administration is not yielding both the spirit and text of this law to satisfy foreign donors,” Gooden wrote. 

In addition to Gooden’s call for an investigation into Penn’s foreign funding, his letter asked the DoE to provide all internal documents and messages pertaining to the administration’s decision to cease reporting foreign donations to colleges and universities. It also requested all communications between the department, Penn and the Penn Biden Center regarding contributions from international entities. 

One concern critics of Penn’s vaunted relationship with communist China have raised relates to the U.S. Justice Department’s decision to end its China Initiative, an anti-espionage project focused on Chinese malfeasance that began in 2018 during the Trump administration. Last winter, about 200 Penn professors signed a letter urging the Biden administration to ditch the effort, which it soon did. 

Gooden mentioned in his letter that he wants the federal government to more closely examine foreign sources of influence on all policy institutes, even those operating outside of universities. To that end, he introduced a bill called the Think Tank and Nonprofit Foreign Influence Disclosure Act last session. The legislation would mandate that tax-exempt charitable associations report the names of foreign governments or political parties from which they have received more than $50,000. 

“The American people deserve this level of financial transparency from the Biden Administration and rely on your agency to uphold federal law and collect and publish donations from foreign adversaries,” the congressman wrote. 

– – –

Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Lance Gooden” by Lance Gooden. Background Photo “University of Pennsylvania” by University of Pennsylvania.