The former chief investigator for the Department of Education said the agency noticed a "startling" spike in Chinese donations to the University of Pennsylvania after President Joe Biden opened his think tank at the school in 2017.
"It was extraordinary," said Paul Moore, who served as the agency's chief investigative counsel during the Trump administration, in congressional testimony on Thursday. UPenn raked in over $100 million from China-based contributors between 2017 and 2022, the Washington Free Beacon reported earlier this year. This was a substantial increase from the four years prior to 2017, when the school received a total of $19 million.
Moore's testimony comes as UPenn and the Penn Biden Center face scrutiny over the surge in foreign donations, many of them anonymous, that coincided with the think tank's opening and President Joe Biden's election. Watchdog groups have said the funding raises concerns about foreign influence-buying.
UPenn has said that no foreign donations were earmarked for the Penn Biden Center and that the think tank is supported by the school's general budget. But Moore said that foreign contributions to UPenn's general fund could have made their way to the Penn Biden Center indirectly.
"Those funds were co-mingled, and certainly went to the general operations, and may have gone to the Biden Center," he said.
Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.) asked Moore if other universities saw similar increases in Chinese funding. Under federal law, schools that receive government support are required to disclose their overseas donations to the Department of Education.
"Not in that time frame. Absolutely not," said Moore, adding that while other schools saw an uptick in China donations, none saw an increase to the same extent as UPenn.
"It was particularly startling to see with UPenn what they had received. That was very notable," he said.
The former Education Department official told the committee that his office declined to investigate the donations because there was no evidence that UPenn was violating any of the agency's laws by accepting the funding.
"Members of Congress wrote to us, urging us to open an investigation," he said. "It would have been a very political thing, inappropriate, frankly, for the office of general counsel."
Several high-profile Biden officials worked at the think tank before joining the administration, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who served as the Penn Biden Center's director.
The National Legal and Policy Center, a government watchdog group, has said the donations raise concerns about foreign influence-buying and called on the Department of Education to release the names of the anonymous funders.
"The Department of Education's policy of hiding the identities of foreign entities showering our universities with billions of dollars is promoting a toxic brew of dark money and corruption," Tom Anderson, the director of the center's Government Integrity Project, told the Free Beacon in January.