Congress Wants Increased Transparency of Chinese Funding to American Universities

Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.)
June 21, 2023

House Republicans want to make it harder for American universities to hide donations from China and other malign regimes via a new law that would require institutions to disclose every dime they receive from the Chinese Communist Party.

The legislation, introduced last week by Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.) and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, would significantly alter federal disclosure laws by forcing schools to provide the Education Department with information about all money donated by foreign adversaries, specifically China and Russia.

Current law requires schools to report gifts of $250,000 or more, and the Biden administration has been hesitant to enforce this rule following a lobbying campaign from multiple high-profile universities. The administration has nixed several federal investigations into CCP influence at U.S. universities, fueling concerns in Congress that China is being given free reign to peddle influence at some of the most prestigious American institutions of higher learning. The reporting requirements included in Banks’s bill are some of the strictest to date and are certain to rankle schools like Stanford University and the University of Delaware, which have both taken millions of dollars in Chinese money while disclosing little information about these donations and research partnerships.

As Secretary of State Antony Blinken wraps up his trip to China aimed at cooling tensions between the countries, Republicans are amping up their efforts to crack down on CCP influence operations in America. The legislation is just one effort by the GOP-controlled House to expose how China infiltrates American schools by showering them with cash. The Communist country has doled out more than $426 million to U.S. schools since 2011, even as the federal government warns that Beijing is using this foothold to steal proprietary research and spy on Americans.

The new House bill, known as the Safeguarding American Education From Foreign Control Act, would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 so that every donation made by China or other adversarial nations covered in the measure is reported to the federal government. In addition to China, the bill extends these reporting requirements to Russia, North Korea, and Iran.

The Education Department would also be required under the legislation to pass along information about these donations to the director of National Intelligence and the FBI so that they can more easily investigate Chinese influence peddling and keep track of the CCP’s spending in American academia.

The bill is part of a larger push this summer by House Republicans to crack down on "Joe Biden’s soft-on-China agenda," Banks told the Free Beacon.

"Joe Biden and far-left officials like [Education Department] secretary [Miguel] Cardona are doing less than the bare legal minimum to track illicit Chinese influence at our universities," the lawmaker said. "My bill removes any ambiguity from the law and tells federal law enforcement when the Biden administration ignores it. Thanks to this administration, the Chinese Communist Party has an even tighter hold on U.S. higher education."

Banks and other top GOP lawmakers began raising the issue earlier this year, warning that Chinese funding to American schools has been skyrocketing under the Biden administration since it stopped enforcing a federal code governing how foreign gifts and donations are reported. The new bill would force the administration’s hand and publicly expose every cent that China gives to American universities.

Banks and other supporters of the legislation—including Reps. Jodey Arrington (R., Texas), Troy Nehls (R., Texas), Brandon Williams (R., N.Y.), Glenn Grothman (R., Wis.), and John Moolenaar (R., Mich.)—are pushing to include it in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.

China’s foothold in the American academic system has long been a source of concern for federal authorities and emerged as a top agenda item when Republicans took control of the House. The Select Committee on China, of which Banks is a member, has been probing a host of schools for their partnerships with Beijing.

Stanford University, for instance, has taken $27 million from China since 2021, as the Free Beacon reported in April. This funding has drawn concerns given Stanford’s work on sensitive U.S. military research on behalf of the Pentagon.

The House China committee also is investigating China’s establishment of Confucius Institutes on American college campuses. The CCP-controlled hubs are known to serve as a spy base for China as it works to steal proprietary American research.

While Congress has banned U.S. schools from receiving federal funds while hosting Confucius Institutes, the Biden administration began offering waivers earlier this year for schools looking to skirt the prohibition.