ANALYSIS: Biden Center scandal ignites interest in possible foreign influence at UPenn

Between 2017 and 2019, UPenn received $61 million in gifts and contracts from China.

Campus Reform has previously covered the influence of the Chineese Communist Party's funding of U.S. higher education.

Last week’s revelation of classified documents found at the Penn Biden Center has re-ignited media interest in potential influence-peddling and financial corruption at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn).

NBC News reported on Monday, January 9, that classified documents were discovered in a locked cabinet at UPenn’s Biden Center in November 2022, six days before the Midterm elections. 

The 10 classified documents from the Obama-Biden administration contained “US intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics including Ukraine, Iran and the United Kingdom,” according to a CNN exclusive.

When this story first broke, Campus Reform Higher Education Fellow Nicholas Giordano highlighted on “Fox Business” that “the timing is suspicious.”

Creation of the Penn Biden Center

UPenn announced the creation of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in February 2017, and officially opened its Washington DC center in February 2018.

Biden was named the Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice Professor at UPenn in 2017. Prior to his bid for the Presidency, the DC think tank was designed with an office suite dedicated to Biden’s use while in the capital city. 

UPenn paid Biden nearly $1 million for his contract between 2017 and 2019, according to the New York Post. Biden appeared on UPenn’s campus a total of nine times prior to suspending his professorship when he announced his presidential candidacy in April 2019.

At the inauguration of the Penn Biden Center, former president of UPenn Amy Gutmann stated, “The unmatched personal connections Joe Biden has with world leaders is equally important to our students, our faculty, policymakers, and the work of this new Center…in furthering [the] diplomacy and global engagement that is needed to advance the world order.” 

Chinese Funds and the FARA investigation

Investigative reporting from The Washington Free Beacon reveals that, between 2017 and 2019, UPenn received $61 million in gifts and contracts from China. By comparison, UPenn received $19 million from Chinese investments between 2014 and 2017. 

Following this report, the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) filed an official complaint with the US Attorney’s Office alleging that UPenn and the Penn Biden Center may be in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

FARA intends to protect the interests of the American public and shield US government officials from foreign influence. Agents representing a foreign government, political party, or corporation that has influence over political activities in the US must register under FARA. 

The NLPC highlights a one-time $14.5 million donation from an anonymous Chinese source given to UPenn on May 25, 2018, shortly after the opening of the Penn Biden Center.

Potential Chinese Communist Party influence

“Both Penn and the Penn Biden Center are particularly vulnerable to Chinese influences due to these large amounts of donations and contracts,” according to the NLPC, which may pressure faculty to only show the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in a positive light.

For example, UPenn hosted the “Fourth Annual Penn China Research Symposium” on January 31, 2020, at which the opening remarks were delivered by Huang Ping, Consul-General of the People’s Republic of China in New York. 

Faculty from UPenn, Penn Law, and the Penn Biden Center also spoke at the event.

In February 2020, the Free Beacon reported that UPenn received $3 million from Xu Xeuqing and his “Nice Famous Corporation.” The Free Beacon states that Xu has strong ties to the CCP. 

In response to these allegations, UPenn denies any foul play. 

The New York Post reported last year that the spokesperson for UPenn, Stephen MacCarthy, denied allegations of foreign influence, stating that the center “has never solicited or received any gifts from any Chinese or other foreign entity.”  

MacCarthy has not yet responded to Campus Reform’s request for comment.

Campus Reform has also not yet received comment from the White House, the Penn Biden Center, or the NLPC despite attempts to contact.

Campus Reform has previously covered the influence of CCP funding in higher education and as this story develops, Campus Reform will update this post with breaking coverage.

Follow Gabrielle M. Etzel on Twitter.


Editorials and op-eds reflect the opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of Campus Reform or the Leadership Institute.