by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Russian state-backed entities have contributed millions of dollars to organizations in the United States in order to gain influence. Unfortunately, at American post-secondary institutions, it is difficult to track where money is coming from.
Section 117 of the Higher Education Act governs how universities report foreign contributions they receive. A review of the Department of Education’s current practices shows significant issues with how the information is reported. Absent reforms, Congress and the general public have limited awareness of how much foreign money flows onto our campuses, making it difficult to track the full extent of Russian contributions. But despite the limits of the various Department of Education databases showing foreign contributions, we can find several trends regarding Russian donations to American post-secondary institutions.
Overall, Russian individuals and organizations reportedly contributed $150 million to post-secondary institutions since data started being collected in the 1980s. In the 2014-2020 period, the Department of Education reported over $100 million in contributions from Russian entities to American post-secondary institutions. Out of the contributions listed in the 2014-2020 period, $37 million had the giftee name of “NA,” meaning we don’t know what entity within Russia made the contribution. Anonymity proves to be an issue in other ways as well. We know Yale received $2 million in annual contributions from 2014 to 2016, but since the donor is listed as “Anonymous #23,” it is difficult to know if that money was from someone with the best intentions or not.
With $87 million in donations either not having a giftee name due to being part of the larger dataset or having a giftee name of “NA” in the detailed dataset, it is difficult to understand the full scope of Russian influence. To be clear, it’s likely that the amount of Russian money flowing to American colleges and universities is much greater than what has been reported based on lax compliance and enforcement. …
… Fortunately, some in Congress are working to improve transparency about foreign contributions.