Just days after the inauguration, three Republican lawmakers are targeting Penn over its close-knit relationship with President and former Penn Presidential Professor of Practice Joe Biden.
The letter, drafted by House Republicans James Comer (R-Ky.), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) to Penn President Amy Gutmann on Jan. 27, alleges that the University has received millions of dollars in undisclosed funds from China prior to and after the formation of the Penn Biden Center, suggesting it is an example of Biden’s “illicit ties to foreign adversaries.”
University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy denied the validity of the complaint.
“The Penn Biden Center has never solicited or received any gifts from any Chinese or other foreign entity. In fact, the University has never solicited any gifts for the Center," MacCarthy wrote in a Jan. 27 statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian. "Since its inception in 2017, there have been three unsolicited gifts, from two donors, which combined [to a total of] $1,100. Both donors are Americans."
The lawmakers' allegation comes after they sent letters to six different American universities, including Penn, asking them to release information about their connections to China, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Russia to better understand “foreign influence and investment in U.S. higher education.” Penn did not respond to their request.
The letter requests an unredacted record of all gifts allegedly made to the University from the Chinese government or any businesses located primarily in China from 2013 until now, in attempt to "better understand" Penn's and the Penn Biden Center's ties to China as well as the depth of foreign influence and investment in U.S. higher education.
The lawmakers are also asking the University to provide all information, documents, and communications between Biden, Gutmann, and three other Penn-affiliated figures — former Managing Director of the Penn Biden Center Antony Blinken, current Managing Director of the Penn Biden Center Michael Carpenter, and Penn Vice Provost for Global Initiatives Ezekiel Emanuel, who is on Biden's COVID-19 advisory board.
In response to a request for comment from the DP, Emanuel wrote: "Don’t know anything about the inquiry. Sorry can’t be helpful."
Lawmakers alleged in the letter that the University had received about $21,187,333 from China in the 37 months prior to Penn announcing the formation of the Penn Biden Center and $72,274,675 from China in the 39 months following its launch.
According to the Penn Biden Center's website, the Center does not accept any contributions or gifts and remains completely independent of the Biden administration.
The Penn Biden Center, established in 2018 and based in D.C., continues to operate as part of Penn Global. Biden took an unpaid leave of absence from the center in April 2019 after he announced his candidacy for president.
Senior reporter Conor Murray contributed reporting.