On May 21, the Washington, D.C.-based National Legal and Policy Center filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education accusing the University of Pennsylvania of circumventing federal laws requiring schools to report foreign donations above $250,000.
According to the complaint, Penn has received over $67 million from China-based sources since 2013. And since the school opened the Washington, D.C.-based Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in 2017, the school has received over $22 million from China-based sources that are listed simply as “Anonymous.”
On Wednesday, Penn spokesman Stephen MacCarthy called the NLPC allegation “completely untrue.”
“We have never solicited any gifts for the Penn Biden Center,” MacCarthy told The College Fix via e-mail. “Since its inception in 2017 there have been three unsolicited gifts (from two donors) which combined total $1,100. Neither of the donors were from China.”
“It is total nonsense,” he told The Fix.
“It’s total nonsense to think that some of the millions of dollars of anonymous donations from China are not being funneled to the Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement which is part of the PennGlobal operation,” said NLPC Attorney Paul Kamenar in response to MacCarthy.
“The foreign donations are not going to the Music or English Departments,” said Kamenar in an e-mail to The Fix.
“MacCarthy was very careful to say UoPenn ‘never solicited any gifts’ to Penn Biden Center. It doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to conclude that foreign funds are being directed to the Biden Center even if not solicited or earmarked for the Center,” said Kamenar.
According to the complaint, the anonymous China contributions continued after former Vice President Joe Biden, for whom the Biden Center is named, announced his candidacy for the presidency. At the time of the center’s opening, Biden was Penn’s Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice Professor.
“It is apparent that the Biden Center is beholden to China for its operations,” said Peter Flaherty, Chair of NLPC, in a statement. “This has an insidious effect on shaping the programs it produces.”
The complaint comes as the Education Department is investigating Harvard and Yale for failing to report hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign gifts and contracts. The department has said once it began applying pressure on schools in July of 2019 to begin reporting foreign funding, over $6.5 billion in foreign money has been disclosed.
This new complaint alleges lack of full disclosure at Penn, another Ivy League school. According to the NLPC, Chinese donations to the Biden Center since 2017 break down as follows:
2017: Total: $7,734,790 – Anonymous: $500,000
2018: Total: $27,104,246 – Anonymous: $15,800,000
2019: Total: $26,947,074 – Anonymous: $6,004,975
The NLPC did not immediately respond to a request by The Fix to comment for this story.
The complaint alleges these contributions have affected the behavior of both Penn and the Biden Center. For instance, as China was in the process of covering up information about the effect of COVID-19 on its country, Penn Global sponsored the 2020 Penn China Research Symposium on January 31, 2020, that included opening remarks by Ambassador Huang Ping, Consul-General of the People’s Republic of China in New York. One of the panelists at the symposium was from the Penn Biden Center.
“Moreover, the University of Pennsylvania since 2015 has established a Penn China Research and Engagement Fund where university funds are awarded for research projects about China,” the complaint notes.
At a ribbon-cutting for the center in 2018, Biden said, “It is just a great, great honor to be associated with what I think is one of the finest universities in the world,” adding, “This is the most satisfying thing that I could do. The purpose of this [center] is to be a gathering place where ideas are exchanged.”
The NLPC seeks full disclosure of the contributions and for Penn to reimburse the U.S. Treasury for “the full costs to the United States of obtaining compliance, including all associated costs of investigation and enforcement.”
“NLPC calls upon the University and the Biden Center to release copies of all the gifts and contracts over the last two years and open the books of the Biden Center,” said Kamenar. “The anonymous gift of $14.5 million from China two years ago after the Biden Center opened is particularly suspect. What are they hiding?”
Read the full complaint here.
This article has been updated to add the response by the University of Pennsylvania.
This article has been updated to add NLPC Attorney Paul Kamenar’s response to the University of Pennsylvania.