Jessica Van Meir, Trinity ‘17, was scrolling through her Instagram feed in July when she came across a post that made her pause. Against a white-and-blue backdrop, the Abolish Duke IFC and Panhel account posed a simple question in black block letters: “Do you know what your dues support?”
The Instagram post explained the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee, the primary force representing Greek life interests in Washington, and its connections to Duke’s Panhellenic Association and Interfraternity Council.
Van Meir swiped twice and was surprised to see a screenshot of a Federal Election Commission database revealing that the Duke chapter of her former sorority, Chi Omega, had donated directly to FSPAC through its local housing corporation.
Chi Omega is the only Duke fraternity or sorority to have donated directly to FSPAC between 2013 and 2020, FEC data show. Yet national and local organizations associated with 13 of Duke’s Panhel and IFC chapters gave a total of more than $200,000 to the hybrid PAC during that time period, according to a Chronicle analysis of that data.
Multicultural Greek Council and National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations do not donate to FSPAC, The Chronicle found.
The Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee
According to FSPAC’s website, the group’s mission is “to help defend and enhance the fraternal experience.”
During the current election cycle, FSPAC has spent more than $915,000 and raised more than $1,000,000, which is more than any other election cycle since the PAC’s inception in the 2005-06 election cycle, according to data from OpenSecrets.
FSPAC is a hybrid political action committee: It operates as a PAC, which contributes to candidate campaigns and political parties, and as a Super PAC, which donates money for independent expenditures. The FEC defines an independent expenditure as spending on communication that “[e]xpressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate.” A hybrid PAC has two separate bank accounts for each of these functions.
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All donations from fraternity and sorority organizations go to FSPAC’s independent expenditure account, meaning those funds are not contributed directly to a candidate but may be used for other political spending.
“The FSPAC’s independent expenditure account can make independent expenditures to advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate, and can use funds it receives to cover its administrative expenses,” FSPAC President Phyllis Grissom wrote in an email.
Super PACs are required by law to disclose their donors to the FEC. However, some donors to Super PACs, like shell corporations or certain nonprofits, are not required to report where they got their money. This means the public is unable to identify who made certain donations to Super PACs, according to OpenSecrets. Additionally, Super PACs, unlike regular PACs, are able to accept and spend unlimited amounts of money.
When it comes to candidate contributions, FSPAC has donated more money to Republican candidates than Democratic ones in every election cycle except for 2007-08, according to the OpenSecrets data, though the difference between the two political parties was much smaller this election cycle.
Out of all U.S. Senate candidates during the 2019-20 election cycle, FSPAC contributed the most money to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY): $9,000. The PAC also gave $5,000 each to Georgia GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who are campaigning for January runoff elections.
Eight U.S. House candidates from North Carolina received contributions from FSPAC during the 2019-20 election cycle, including Democrat David Price. Price has long represented North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District, which covers part of Durham County.
In the 2019-20 election cycle, the PAC contributed $10,000 to the Republican E-PAC, which gave $10,000 to President Donald Trump during the election cycle. FSPAC has also donated to both the Democratic and Republican congressional and senatorial campaign committees.
FSPAC’s website states that the committee is “truly bipartisan” and contributes to individuals who “believe in the benefits and personal growth opportunities fraternities and sororities offer collegiate men and women.”
According to Inside Higher Ed, the group lobbied for the Safe Campus Act, which sought to require victims of sexual assault to report cases to law enforcement before universities could pursue an investigation. FSPAC has also lobbied for the PROSPER Act to fight against university regulations of single-gender organizations, The Harvard Crimson reported in April 2018.
Bloomberg News reported in July 2013 that FSPAC lobbied for a tax cut for fraternity houses and against anti-hazing legislation.
Grissom told The Chronicle in an email that “FSPAC does not lobby.” She did not respond when asked for further details about her statement.
Van Meir, the Duke Chi Omega alumna, said she strongly disapproves of FSPAC’s track record of lobbying for legislation like the Safe Campus Act, which Van Meir and other advocates say would make it harder for sexual assault victims to report their cases and seek justice from their schools.
While at Duke, Van Meir founded a student organization to prevent sexual assault. She now works at a law firm specializing in Title IX cases representing survivors of sexual assault at universities.
“I was really upset to hear that money that potentially my fellow members of Chi O had paid to the chapter had gone to promote that kind of legislation,” Van Meir said.
Senior Mayra Navarro, president of Duke Chi Omega, confirmed the chapter’s housing corporation had donated to FSPAC.
“[T]he House Corporation is supporting advocacy efforts for things such as the Chapter Housing Infrastructure Act (CHIA), bipartisan legislation that would allow tax-deductible donations to chapter housing for housing improvement, including for safety improvements to facilities for its residents,” Navarro wrote in an email.
Navarro did not respond to a subsequent email asking for comment on FSPAC’s reported lobbying history or finances.
“I don't think that we should be trying to use our funds to increase political power of former members of fraternities and sororities, or to entrench Greek life into university life politically,” Van Meir said.
Senior Shreyas Gupta, a former member of Pi Kappa Phi who is involved in the Abolish Duke Greek Life movement, told The Chronicle that the FSPAC Instagram post was one of the account’s most-liked posts. He estimated that, out of “any 10 members of so-called ‘White Greek Life’ at Duke, 9 or even 10 of them would have never heard of the FSPAC.”
“The most common response from the community was utter disbelief and confusion,” Gupta wrote in an email. “The majority of responses that we received further illustrated how members of these organizations don’t understand the full impact of their membership and support of these outdated social structures.”
Gupta added that he believes FSPAC’s reported support for tax cuts, the Safe Campus Act and against anti-hazing legislation to be “disgusting.”
“We need to be more cognizant of where we place our privilege (quite literally as this is a monetary issue),” he wrote.
Emilie Dye, who oversees fraternity and sorority life for Duke Student Affairs, did not respond to requests for comment.
Fraternity and sorority structure and finances
Duke’s Panhel and IFC members pay dues to their respective chapters. Sorority dues range from $489 to $849.50 during members’ first semester and $307.33 to $485 during subsequent semesters, according to spring 2020 dues listed on Panhel’s website. Duke IFC chapters do not publicly release member fee amounts.
Panhel and IFC chapters belong to national Greek organizations. Duke Panhel’s website states that a portion of member dues goes to each chapter’s corresponding national office, and Duke IFC President Rohan Singh, a senior, confirmed that the same is the case for IFC chapters.
National Greek organizations also typically have two related entities: a housing corporation and a foundation. A national fraternity housing corporation oversees the management and operation of collegiate housing and related activities. A national fraternity foundation financially supports the philanthropic and educational endeavors of the Greek organization.
Collegiate chapters may also have their own local housing corporation, which is supported by member contributions.
Through affiliation with a national Greek organization, Duke Panhel and IFC chapters are also associated with other collegiate chapters, local housing corporations and alumni associations across the country.
Duke chapters: According to data from the Federal Election Commission, the Mu Kappa housing corporation of Chi Omega gave $1,000 to FSPAC in March. It was the only Duke Panhel or IFC organization to make a direct donation to FSPAC in any election cycle.
National organizations: Other Panhel and IFC chapters’ national organizations have donated money to FSPAC. These national organizations with Duke chapters include:
- Gamma Phi Beta: $15,000 (2017-2019)
- Pi Beta Phi: $13,875 (2015-2020)
- Sigma Chi: $5,028 (2019)
- Kappa Alpha Order: $3,415 (2013-2019)
- Delta Delta Delta: $2,000 (2014-2015)
- Alpha Delta Pi: $1,000 (2015)
On behalf of Pi Beta Phi at Duke, senior Natalie Turner sent The Chronicle Pi Beta Phi national organization’s official statement on FSPAC.
“Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women has and does support the Fraternity/Sorority Political Action Committee (FSPAC),” the statement reads. “The Fraternity has provided detailed information about Pi Beta Phi’s involvement in the FSPAC at pibetaphi.org/fspac.”
Before mid-November, the mentioned webpage cited Pi Beta Phi’s $5,000 donation in 2016 to secure an FSPAC board seat, a $2,475 donation in 2019 and a $1,400 donation in 2020, but the webpage initially omitted the national organization’s $5,000 donation in 2015.
Shawn Eagleburger, senior director of strategic initiatives for Pi Beta Phi, wrote in an email that after The Chronicle asked about the omission, the organization updated the website to include the $5,000 donation. It was initially omitted because the website only included donations made after its creation in 2016.
Asked for comment on Kappa Alpha Order's donations, Brent Buswell, director of communications for the fraternity, provided a statement by Executive Director Larry Wiese confirming that Kappa Alpha Order has donated to FSPAC’s non-contribution account. Jesse Lyons, Kappa Alpha Order assistant executive director for advancement, confirmed in a Tuesday email that the donations matched the total reflected in The Chronicle's analysis.
Tri Delta CEO Karen White wrote in a statement to The Chronicle, “Tri Delta strongly believes in actively participating in matters that directly affect our organization and our members, such as our right to exist as a single-gender organization, ensuring tougher hazing laws and fairness in student housing.”
Pi Beta Phi, Kappa Alpha Order and Tri Delta’s national offices maintained that no member dues were used for FSPAC donations attributed to the respective sororities. Grissom, the FSPAC president, also wrote that all “contributions to the FSPAC are entirely voluntary and are not tied in any way to dues payments.”
“Tri Delta has a few different sources of revenue in addition to member dues,” Tri Delta spokesperson Mindy Tucker wrote in an email.
Tri Delta, Pi Beta Phi and FSPAC did not respond to further inquiries regarding details about how the organizations separated chapter dues from FSPAC donations.
On Tuesday, Lyons, the Kappa Alpha Order assistant executive director for advancement, wrote in an email that the fraternity's FSPAC donations came from sources of income other than member dues and fees.
Lyons also provided a further statement by Wiese.
“Kappa Alpha Order feels strongly, like others quoted, in the need to defend student rights and the fraternity and sorority experience through various avenues of advocacy, outside of the FSPAC,” Wiese wrote. “These include student lobbying participation, education on issues facing the fraternity and sorority community, and others, along with direct alumni support of the FSPAC.”
The national offices of Gamma Phi Beta, Sigma Chi and Alpha Delta Pi did not respond to requests for comment on their donations.
Duke’s chapters of Alpha Delta Pi, Sigma Chi and Kappa Alpha Order did not respond to requests for comment. Senior Kat Tiscornia, president of Gamma Phi Beta at Duke, declined to comment. Sophomore Deborah Ades, president of Tri Delta at Duke, referred The Chronicle to the chapter’s national offices.
National housing corporations: The following Duke chapters’ national housing corporations have donated to FSPAC:
- Alpha Epsilon Pi: $10,500 (2014-2019)
- Delta Gamma: $9,000 (2013-2020)
- Kappa Alpha Theta: $5,000 (2014)
- Delta Delta Delta: $1,000 (2015)
Alpha Epsilon Pi spokesperson Jonathan Pierce wrote in an email that the national housing corporation “has nothing to do with Duke students and no fees or dues of Duke students are allocated to it.”
Tax forms from 2017 show that Alpha Epsilon Pi’s national housing corporation received money from the national foundation, which received a grant from the national fraternity organization, which in turn solicits member fees. Pierce wrote that the grant from the national offices to the national foundation was placed in a fund that is used for the fraternity's philanthropic endeavors and donated to charitable causes.
The money from the foundation to the housing corporation came from alumni who designated the funds to specific purposes such as “providing kosher meals, chapter library space, and educational opportunities for chapters,” Pierce wrote.
A portion of member dues from Duke’s Delta Gamma chapter goes directly to their national housing corporation, according to 2019-20 and 2020-21 chapter budgets reviewed by The Chronicle.
A former vice president of finance for Delta Gamma’s Duke chapter, who requested to remain anonymous since she has disaffiliated from the organization, wrote in an email to The Chronicle that she was “completely unaware” that Delta Gamma’s national housing corporation and associated local organizations donated to FSPAC. She learned about the donations this past summer from the Abolish Duke IFC and Panhel Instagram account.
When she was vice president of finance, Duke students in Delta Gamma did not have much of a say in determining Duke Delta Gamma’s budget, she wrote. She believed she was “pretty much blindly submitting numbers that were up to the discretion of nationals.”
A “lack of clarity” about how Delta Gamma’s national organization spent its money was part of her decision to disaffiliate, she wrote, as was her “discomfort with being associated with a system tied to a long history of sexism, racism and [classism].”
The Delta Gamma national office did not respond to a request for comment. Duke Delta Gamma President Annika Hsu, a senior, did not respond to a request for comment.
Kappa Alpha Theta’s 2015 tax forms show its national housing corporation charges a program fee for sorority members. However, Theta president and senior Victoria Sorhegui explained that Duke’s chapter only joined the national housing corporation in 2018.
“The Beta Rho Chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta Fraternity, has never donated to the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee (FSPAC), and our student dues, including Fraternal Housing Corporation (FHC) dues, have never gone towards the FSPAC,” Sorhegui wrote in an email.
The national office of Kappa Alpha Theta did not respond to The Chronicle’s request for comment.
Duke chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi did not respond to a request for comment. Ades, president of Tri Delta at Duke, referred The Chronicle to the chapter’s national offices.
Associated organizations: Around the country, collegiate groups and alumni organizations of the same IFC and Panhel chapters at Duke also donate to FSPAC, though Duke chapter member dues do not finance those groups.
- Pi Kappa Alpha: $46,250 (2014-2020)
- Chi Omega: $21,000 (2013-2020)
- Alpha Delta Pi: $18,950 (2012-2020)
- Delta Gamma: $18,200 (2013-2020)
- Alpha Phi: $15,550 (2013-2020)
- Sigma Nu: $7,000 (2013-2016)
- Delta Delta Delta: $4,250 (2014-2020)
- Gamma Phi Beta: $1,750 (2014-2019)
- Kappa Alpha Order: $250 (2017)
- Sigma Chi: $250 (2018)
Interactives by Stefanie Pousoulides.
Editor’s notes: Hannah Miao, one of the authors of this article, is a former member of Delta Gamma at Duke.
This story was updated at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday with an additional statement from Kappa Alpha Order leadership. It was updated again at 5:25 p.m. with more information about the source of the fraternity's FSPAC donations, and to include a new statement about the amount of the fraternity's donations, after a previous statement from the organization incorrectly included an extra $50 donation compared to FEC data.
Stefanie Pousoulides is The Chronicle's Investigations Editor. A senior from Akron, Ohio, Stefanie is double majoring in political science and international comparative studies and serves as a Senior Editor of The Muse Magazine, Duke's feminist magazine. She is also a former co-Editor-in-Chief of The Muse Magazine and a former reporting intern at PolitiFact in Washington, D.C.