GOP Senators Introduce Bill to Crack Down on ‘Foreign Influence Operations’ at US Colleges

GOP Senators Introduce Bill to Crack Down on ‘Foreign Influence Operations’ at US Colleges
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) speaks during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, on April 21, 2021. (Graeme Jennings/AFP via Getty Images)
Tom Ozimek

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) on Aug. 3 introduced legislation targeting gifts and donations to U.S. colleges and universities that come from foreign adversaries such as China, in a bid to blunt the impact of “foreign influence operations.”

The bill, called the Greater Insight into Foreign Transactions (GIFTs) in Higher Education Act (pdf), seeks greater transparency in higher education gifts and donations, while making U.S. colleges and universities more accountable for reporting such transactions.

“Hostile foreign adversaries, including the Chinese Communist Party, routinely seek to infiltrate our higher education institutions to steal our research and exploit our intellectual property,” Rubio said in a statement.

Rubio and Cramer’s bill expands the gift and donation disclosure requirements under Section 117 of the Higher Education Act to include faculty, professional staff, and all staff engaged in research and development. All federal funding to colleges and universities would, under the bill, be dependent on compliance with the expanded disclosure requirements.

The Department of Education last year released the findings of a probe (pdf) into institutional compliance with reporting laws. It found that many universities and colleges “aggressively“ and ”systematically” pursued and accepted foreign gifts while failing to comply with reporting and transparency laws.

Universities have long been on notice that a substantial amount of foreign money is coming from sources hostile to the United States seeking “to project soft power, steal sensitive and proprietary research, and spread propaganda,” the report stated.

Last year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that U.S. colleges were becoming “hooked on Chinese Communist Party cash,” while Beijing works to siphon cutting-edge U.S. research to China.

“We cannot allow this tyrannical regime to steal our stuff to build their military might, brainwash our people, or buy off our institutions to help them cover up these activities,” he said.

Rubio and Cramer’s bill also codifies “designated foreign adversary sources” and establishes a list of “designated foreign adversary governments,” that includes China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Cuba, Syria, and Venezuela.

“There is absolutely no reason that bad actors should be able to run these foreign influence operations that seek to undermine America,“ Rubio said. ”We need to bring greater transparency to donations from foreign adversaries and hold our institutions and the Department of Education more accountable to reporting these transactions in a timely manner.”

Rubio and Cramer said in a fact sheet (pdf) accompanying the release of the draft bill that the Department of Education worked to enforce Section 117 under the Trump administration and called on more aggressive action in this area by the Biden administration.

Their bill would require the Department of Education to publish disclosures within 30 days of submission deadlines, while requiring gifts and contracts worth $50,000 or more from designated foreign adversary sources to be disclosed within 30 days of the transaction dates.

“If a university accepts foreign money or gifts, their students, donors, and taxpayers deserve to know,” Cramer said in a statement. “Our bill would improve oversight of foreign funding in higher education by holding universities accountable to ensure their reporting is full, accurate, and transparent.”