Over half of the congress members who have publicly criticized Penn's response to Hamas' attack on Israel have received campaign support from withdrawn Penn donors and their affiliated companies.
On Nov. 1, 26 congress members sent a letter to Penn President Liz Magill, in which they said that the administration’s response to Hamas' attacks last month was untimely and put into question the University’s moral compass and commitment to countering violence. Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) was the lead Congress member in the effort to send the letter, of which similar versions were sent to Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, and Yale universities.
“Silence in this case is resounding applause for the acceptance of evil,” the letter wrote.
The congress members' letter to Penn comes amid an ongoing battle between Magill and longtime University donors, many of whom have pledged to halt their donations due to the University's response to the war, antisemitic incidents on campus, and this year's Palestine Writes Literature Festival.
The movement against Penn began when Apollo Global Management Inc. CEO and Wharton Board of Advisors Chair Marc Rowan recommended Penn change its leadership and urged fellow donors to "close their checkbooks" until Magill and Board of Trustees Chair Scott Bok stepped down. 1987 College graduate Jon Huntsman and his family, as well as 1965 Wharton graduate Ronald Lauder, followed suit days later.
Rowan, Lauder, and Huntsman each have a history of significant political support for presidential candidates, congress members, and political groups. Rowan has given millions to Republican Super PACs, Democratic and Republican candidates, and the United Democracy Project, a bipartisan pro-Israel organization. Lauder donated millions to the Senate Leadership Fund during the 2020 campaign cycle, as well as $100,000 to the Republican National Committee.
Political action committees and individuals affiliated with Rowan's company, Apollo, have donated at least $28,215 to 12 of the congress members who signed the letter to Magill, according to publicly available federal contributions data on OpenSecrets.
In addition, Estée Lauder Companies Inc. — the cosmetics firm of which Lauder is an heir — and affiliated PACs and individuals have given at least $19,170 to two of the letter's signatories, Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.) and Nancy Mace (R-S.C.).
Chemical company Huntsman Corporation — which was founded by and remains owned by the Huntsman family — donated $2,500 each to Randy Weber (R-Texas) and Norman, the lead Congress member to organize the letters to Penn and other universities. A Norman spokesperson did not respond to a list of questions.
In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for Huntsman Corporation wrote that the company "had no involvement with the congressional letter." Requests for comment were left with Estée Lauder and Lauder, who has given $5,700 to Mace and Malliotakis.
Since the start of the 2024 campaign cycle, Apollo Education Group — a for-profit educational services company affiliated with Apollo Global Management — has donated $7,500 to the campaign committee of Burgess Owens (R-Utah). Apollo has also made significant donations to two Democrat Congress members who have spoken out about Penn and combating antisemitism on college campuses: Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) and 1997 College graduate Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.).
Over the course of their careers, Apollo has given $212,715 to Gottheimer and $60,253 to Torres — including $34,000 and $21,900 during the current election cycle, respectively. The firm and its employees have given millions overall in federal campaign contributions.
"The firm did not lobby or play a role in the [congressional] letter," an Apollo spokesperson wrote to the DP.
It is not clear if Magill has responded to the congress members' letter. Magill and Bok have said they have no plans to step down. At a board meeting on Nov. 3, Magill pledged to regain the trust of critical alumni who are doubtful of their leadership and halting donations.
A spokesperson for Owens pointed the DP to his advocacy against antisemitism, including a subcommittee hearing about antisemitism on college campuses, a bipartisan resolution condemning support for terrorist organizations on college campuses, and a letter to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights asking for a "plan to protect the safety and civil liberties of Jewish students as antisemitism surges on campuses nationwide."
The DOE opened investigations into Penn and six other schools over alleged instances of antisemitism and Islamophobia on Nov. 16.
"It is appalling to see the evil of anti-Semitism rearing its ugly head through hateful and at-times violent behavior on our nation’s college campuses," Michael McCaul (R-Texas) wrote in a statement. "If these universities truly value empathy and inclusion as they claim, they will unequivocally condemn this behavior and take immediate action to ensure the safety of all students."
Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect additional context about Rowan, Lauder, and Huntsman's political contributions.