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Social Group Coalitions Spent $90,000 Lobbying On Anti-Sanctions Bill in First Quarter of 2018

The United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.
The United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. By Leah S. Yared
By Caroline S. Engelmayer and Michael E. Xie, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: May 9, 2018 at 7:05 p.m.

Two organizations led in part by members of Harvard’s single-gender social groups spent a total of $90,000 in the first quarter of 2018 lobbying around legislation that could imperil the College’s ability to enforce its social group sanctions, according to publicly available filings.

One of the two groups—the Cambridge Coalition, comprising Greek organizations and final clubs including the Fly Club, the AD Club, and the Porcellian Club—formed in recent months specifically to fight Harvard’s sanctions. The other, the Fraternal Government Relations Coalition, includes fraternity and sorority umbrella organizations the North American Interfraternity Conference and the National Panhellenic Conference, as well as the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee.

The College’s sanctions—which took effect with the Class of 2021—bar members of unrecognized single-gender social groups from holding student group leadership positions, varsity athletic team captaincies, and from receiving College endorsement for prestigious fellowships.

The PROSPER Act, a piece of legislation meant as an update to the Higher Education Act, contains a provision that could force the University to choose between its sanctions and millions of dollars in federal research funding. Graduate and undergraduate members of single-gender social groups have mobilized to lobby members of Congress in favor of the bill.

Though the PROSPER Act in its current form likely does not affect Harvard, some social group affiliates hope to change the wording of an amendment to the act to render the legislation applicable to the University.

The Cambridge Coalition spent $40,000 in the first quarter of 2018 lobbying around “issues related to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.” In that same time period, public filings show FGRC spent $50,000 lobbying around the PROSPER Act. The first quarter stretches from Jan. 1 to March 31.

Both the Cambridge Coalition and FGRC have engaged the law firm Arnold & Porter to help conduct their lobbying efforts, according to public records. Arnold & Porter employee Kevin O’Neill serves as the main lobbyist for both groups.

For at least one member of FGRC—FSPAC—activity around the PROSPER Act matches a pattern. The PAC is the premier political arm for Greek groups in the United States. Established in 2005, FSPAC has long sought to influence higher education laws; the group added a member of the Porcellian Club to its 2017-18 board of directors.

In 2017, FSPAC donated more than $20,000 to three key legislators involved in crafting, introducing, or supporting the PROSPER Act, according to public records.

Publicly available documents show FSPAC gave $22,000 of the total $160,000 it donated to senators and representatives in 2017 to three Republican legislators: Representatives Virginia Foxx, Elise M. Stefanik ’06, and Brett Guthrie, all of whom helped draft the PROSPER Act. Foxx introduced the act and Guthrie penned the amendment that could imperil Harvard’s ability to enforce its sanctions. The Crimson reported in Dec. 2018 that Stefanik is particularly pushing for the social group amendment.

Foxx and Guthrie each received $10,000, while Stefanik got $2,000, according to the documents.

Harvard, too, has weighed in on the discussions surrounding the PROSPER Act. University President Drew G. Faust recently penned a letter to Stefanik laying out her concerns with the legislation and unsuccessfully sought to meet with the congresswoman on a recent visit to D.C. The University has spent $160,000 lobbying in the first quarter of 2018; some of that went to activity around the PROSPER Act.

FSPAC gave significantly more money to representatives than to senators in 2017: $30,500 to senators and $129,500 to representatives, the documents show. While the PROSPER Act has successfully passed the House committee that reviewed it, the Senate has yet to publicly release its version of the bill.

Representatives who received FSPAC donations include members of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, the committee that drafted the PROSPER Act bill and voted to pass it in Dec. 2017. Committee members Marcia L. Fudge, Bradley Byrne, Luke Messer, Todd Rokita, Frederica S. Wilson, Joe Wilson, and Rick W. Allen received a total of $19,000 from FSPAC in 2017, according to the documents.

The documents also show the PAC donated a total of $2,000 to Senator Doug Jones and Senator Todd Young, two members of the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions—the Senate committee that will oversee the drafting of the Senate’s version of the PROSPER Act.

FGRC began lobbying Congress around issues related to Greek organizations years prior to the introduction of the PROSPER Act. FSPAC also launched advocacy efforts more than half a decade ago; in 2012, the PAC opposed a bill that would revoke federal financial aid from anyone found responsible for hazing by a college or university.

FSPAC previously lobbied for an act that would have amended the tax code to make gifts to fraternities and sororities fully tax deductible.

This article has been revised to reflect the following corrections:

CORRECTION: May 9, 2018

A previous version of this article incorrectly indicated that the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee had lobbied Congress in 2017 and 2018. In fact, FSPAC forms part of a group, the Fraternal Government Relations Coalition, that lobbied Congress; FSPAC did not itself lobby. Though FSPAC donated money to various senators and representatives, those donations on their own do not fit the specific legal definition of lobbying.

CORRECTION: May 9, 2018

Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly indicated that the documents revealing the identities of specific senators and representatives to whom FSPAC donated funds in 2017 and 2018 were private documents. In fact, the documents are public.

—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.

—Staff writer Michael E. Xie can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MichaelEXie1.

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