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Social Groups Spent $90,000 Lobbying Congress to Cancel Sanctions in Second Quarter of 2018

The all-male Fly Club, whose members are helping lead the charge to cancel Harvard's social group sanctions on Capitol Hill.
Two organizations led in part by members of Harvard final clubs spent $90,000 in the second quarter of 2018 lobbying for a bill that could imperil the College’s social group sanctions, according to public filings.

One of the organizations — the Cambridge Coalition, which includes the all-male final clubs the Fly Club, the AD Club, and the Porcellian Club — specifically formed to fight the sanctions. The other, the Fraternal Government Relations Coalition, includes umbrella Greek organizations the North American Interfraternity Conference and the National Panhellenic Conference, in addition to the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee.

Both groups spent the same amount in the second quarter of 2018 as they did in the first.

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

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The lobbying effort is centered around the PROSPER Act, a bill meant as an update to the Higher Education Act. A provision in the act could prevent colleges and universities that penalize members of single-gender social groups from receiving federal dollars. 

Embattled single-gender social groups in Cambridge have latched onto this legislation as a possible means to kill the sanctions. Both graduate and undergraduate members of Harvard social groups have traveled to Washington, D.C. in recent months to urge members of Congress to vote for the bill.

The PROSPER Act in its current iteration likely would not affect Harvard. But opponents of the sanctions hope to change the wording of an amendment to the act to ensure the proposed law applies to the University.

FGRC spent $50,000 in the second quarter of 2018 on “issues related to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, including the PROSPER Act,” while the Cambridge Coalition spent $40,000, according to publicly available documents. The quarter began April 1 and ended June 30.

Both organizations have retained the D.C.-based law firm Arnold & Porter to help lead their lobbying efforts. Arnold & Porter has a strong reputation on Capitol Hill and boasts a long list of contacts inside the federal government.

Public filings show that at least one member of FGRC — FSPAC — recently funneled money to key players in the debate over the PROSPER Act. The PAC is the premier political arm for Greek organizations in the country. Created in 2005, FSPAC has sought to influence higher education laws for years. It recently inched closer to Harvard and its raging controversy over the sanctions: FSPAC added a member of the Porcellian Club to its 2017-18 board of directors.

In the first two quarters of 2018, FSPAC gave a total of $10,000 to two vocal proponents of the amendment that could imperil the sanctions. Eight thousand dollars went to Rep. Elise M. Stefanik ’06, a New York Republican, while $2,000 went to North Carolina Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx.

It remains unclear whether the groups’ efforts to push for the anti-sanctions amendment will be successful. Though the PROSPER Act advanced out of committee in Dec. 2017, the entire House of Representatives has yet to vote on the legislation — and it is not known if they will do so before the upcoming midterm election. 

Republicans have so far led the effort to add the social groups provision to the bill. If Democrats win a majority in November, the provision could see longer odds of eventually becoming law.

The Senate is currently in the process of drafting its version of the bill. 

In an emailed statement, Kevin O’Neill, an Arnold & Porter lobbyist working for both the Cambridge Coalition and the FGRC, wrote he remains “optimistic” that the PROSPER Act — and the amendment that could endanger Harvard’s sanctions — will pass.

“Private final clubs, fraternities and sororities exist in Cambridge because students find unparalleled personal development opportunities in joining our highly-regarded single-sex organizations,” O’Neill wrote.

As final club supporters have rallied to defeat the sanctions, Harvard has not sat idly by. Then-University President Drew G. Faust wrote a letter to Stefanik in the spring of 2018 criticizing the bill. Faust also met with lawmakers to discuss the legislation multiple times during her trips to the nation’s capital.

Representatives of final clubs and social groups affected by the policy have not contacted Harvard administrators regarding the PROSPER Act, according to spokespeople from the College and University.

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

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

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