When Joe Biden announced he was opening a foreign policy center at the University of Pennsylvania, the goals for the project were ambitious.
At its founding in 2018, Biden described the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement as "a place where policymakers here and abroad will know they can be in touch with some of the best minds."
The center is one of several organizations Biden founded since leaving the White House in 2017, including the domestic policy-focused Biden Institute at the University of Delaware and the Biden Cancer Initiative, all launched in 2017. All three entities have refused to reveal the sources of their funding, a potential landmine for the Democrats' presumptive presidential nominee that raises questions about the influence of individual, corporate, and foreign donations on the presidential candidate.
The lack of transparency has drawn the attention of a watchdog group that is now demanding that the federal government investigate whether foreign money has flowed to the Biden Center in Philadelphia.
Many of Biden's nonprofit entities have served as landing spots for his former—and potentially future—White House aides. The Penn Biden Center, which had a "soft opening" in March 2017 and officially opened its doors in February 2018, has served as a national security council-in-waiting for Biden, employing his top White House foreign policy advisers Colin Kahl, Michael Carpenter, and Jeffrey Prescott.
Asked about its funding, a spokesman for the Biden Center told the Washington Free Beacon that it is "a question for my colleagues at main university." Penn spokesman Stephen MacCarthy did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The Biden campaign declined to comment. The Biden Cancer Initiative, which had $2.1 million in total assets in 2018 before suspending its operations last year, according to its tax records, declined to provide a list of donors. The Biden Institute at the University of Delaware has also declined to reveal its funders.
While the Penn Biden Center has not released information on its donors, foreign funding to the University of Pennsylvania has risen more than threefold since its soft opening, spiking to over $100 million last year from $31 million in 2016, according to Department of Education records. China has been the largest contributor during that time, even as the U.S. federal government and prosecutors have ramped up scrutiny into the Chinese government's influence-buying and espionage operations on American campuses.
Between March 2017 and the end of 2019, the University of Pennsylvania received a total of $61 million in gifts and contracts from China, according to Department of Education records. In the preceding four years, the university received just $19 million from China.
The donations included a $502,750 "monetary gift" in October 2017 from the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, a Chinese government agency that helps administer the regime's "Thousand Talents Plan." Federal prosecutors claim the program is linked to Chinese espionage operations at American universities and have prosecuted academics for hiding their involvement in it. Other contributors included China's Zhejiang University, the China Merchants Bank, and the China Everbright Group, a state-owned investment group, according to federal records.
Many of the Chinese contributions were listed as coming from "anonymous" donors, a practice experts say is an "easy tactic" that allows the Chinese to penetrate the U.S. education system.
"Anonymous giving to universities is an easy tactic the Chinese Communist Party can use to further its pernicious influence in American universities," Michael Sobolik, an Indo-Pacific studies fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, told the Washington Free Beacon.
Penn received a total of 23 anonymous gifts from China between March 2017 and the end of 2019, totaling over $21 million. In the preceding four years, the university had disclosed just five anonymous donations from China, totaling less than $5 million.
"Policymakers should investigate this vulnerability further and take necessary steps to close the loophole," Sobolik said. "If universities and professors are lax in their reporting, the Department of Education, and when appropriate the Department of Justice, should hold them accountable."
The National Legal and Policy Center, a government watchdog group, filed a complaint with the Department of Education on Wednesday requesting an investigation into Penn's anonymous funding, according to a copy obtained by the Free Beacon.
"Joe Biden's affiliation with the Penn Biden Center further raises concerns of foreign influence not unlike those raised when the Clinton Foundation received millions of dollars in donations while Hillary Clinton was running for president," the complaint said.
The complaint also asked the Department of Education to "refer the matter to the Department of Justice for civil enforcement in federal court, and seek recoupment of all costs to the U.S. government for investigating and enforcing the reporting and disclosure laws of China monetary gifts and contracts."
The anonymous contributions could also run afoul of federal law that requires universities to disclose the source of any foreign donation or contract over $250,000, according to the NLPC.
"The reporting and disclosure violations of gifts from China to U of Penn and its Penn Biden Center are both numerous and flagrant," said Paul Kamenar, counsel for NLPC. "The Department of Justice should take swift enforcement action in federal court and recoup all costs getting them to comply with the law."
The NLPC said in its letter the University of Pennsylvania and the Penn Biden Center were "particularly vulnerable to China government influences due to the large amounts of China donations and contracts" at the school.
Penn's investment in the Penn Biden Center has been significant: a luxe D.C. office directly across from the U.S. Capitol Building in addition to employment for Biden's longtime foreign policy aides; highly promoted conferences featuring Biden conversing with foreign leaders; and a total of $900,000 in payments to the former vice president, according to his tax records.
The center's website features photos of Biden meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping and other world leaders.
The Biden Center is part of the University of Pennsylvania's "Penn Global" department, headed by Biden's campaign health care adviser Ezekiel Emanuel, which handles the university's foreign research and outreach programs.
Those programs have become increasingly focused on China in recent years. According to the Penn Global website, the university has "over 20 international partnerships with Chinese institutions" and has conducted "over 350 research projects and instructional activities in China."
According to the Penn Global website, the university has "over 20 international partnerships with Chinese institutions" and has conducted "over 350 research projects and instructional activities in China."
In 2015, the university launched the China Research and Engagement Fund, a $10 million research-matching funding program. The program has funded Penn medical research in China, studies to improve the country's pork production, and engineering projects to help China reach its national aviation goals, according to its website.
That same year, the University of Pennsylvania opened the Penn Wharton China Center, an academic outpost to support the "growing numbers of programs and collaborations between Penn's 12 schools and many academic, government, and business partners throughout China."
The university also hosts the annual Penn China Research Symposium. This year's event in late January featured Chinese consul general Huang Ping, who said in his speech that he had "lost count how many times I have visited UPenn, probably more than any university in New York City."
He also warned the United States against distancing itself from China. "Considering China's advantages in cost, market and supply chain, and its growing edge in innovation, to decouple from China is to decouple from opportunities," he said in his speech.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published at 1 p.m.