In 2006, the endowments of Indiana University and Texas Christian University invested millions of dollars in a partnership, hoping to mint riches from oil, gas and coal.

The partnership was formed by the Houston-primarily based Quintana Capital Group, whose principals contain Donald L. Evans, an influential Texan and longtime supporter of former President George W. Bush. Little a lot more than a year earlier, Mr. Evans had left his cabinet position as commerce secretary.

Even though the group had an impressive Texas pedigree, presidential cachet and ambitions for operations in the United States, the new partnership was established in the Cayman Islands. The founders promised their university and nonprofit investors that the partnership would try to stay away from federal taxes by exploiting a loophole named “blocker corporations,” which are generally established in tax havens about the world.

The Paradise Papers: Endowments Boom as Colleges Bury Earnings Overseas

A trove of millions of leaked documents from a Bermuda-primarily based law firm, Appleby, reflects some of the tax wizardry utilized by American colleges and universities. Schools have increasingly turned to secretive offshore investments, the files show, which let them swell their endowments with blocker corporations, and steer clear of scrutiny of ventures involving fossil fuels or other troubles that could set off campus controversy.

Buoyed by lucrative tax breaks, college endowments have amassed much more than $500 billion nationwide. The wealth is concentrated in a little group of schools, tilting toward private institutions like these in the Ivy League and other hugely selective colleges. About 11 % of greater-education institutions in the United States hold 74 percent of the money, according to an analysis in 2015 by the Congressional Analysis Service.

“It’s overwhelmingly weighted towards the 1 percent,” mentioned Dean Zerbe, former tax counsel to the Senate Finance Committee. “Most of the schools are the most elites in the country.”

The Residence Republican tax plan consists of a 1.four percent tax on the investment income of private colleges and universities with endowment assets of $250,000 or far more per student. It would not apply to public schools. If passed, the new tax would have an effect on about 70 elite private colleges, although it would not touch the sort of offshore positive aspects the Texan partnership pursued.

On Monday, 45 education groups declared their opposition to the bill in a letter to Kevin Brady, the Texas Republican who is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Tax ‘Blockers’

College and university endowment earnings are generally tax-exempt. But as endowments have sought higher investment returns in recent years, they have shifted more of their income out of standard holdings like United States equities to alternative, potentially more profitable investments. These include private equity and hedge funds that frequently borrow funds, opening them up to tax consequences.

When schools earn earnings from enterprises unrelated to their core educational missions, they can be essential to pay a tax that was intended to avert nonprofits from competing unfairly with for-profit organizations.

Establishing one more corporate layer amongst private equity funds and endowments properly blocks any taxable earnings from flowing to the endowments, the reason they are referred to as blocker corporations. The tax is instead owed by the corporations, which are established in no-tax or low-tax jurisdictions like the Cayman Islands or the British Virgin Islands.

“Congress is basically subsidizing nonprofits by enabling them to engage in these transactions,” stated Norman I. Silber, a law professor at Hofstra University who co-authored a paper on blocker corporations in 2015. “They’re enabling them to borrow so that they can develop up their endowments.”

The use of blocker corporations has raised concerns amongst policymakers in recent years. That’s partly since they cost the United States Treasury millions of dollars, but also because they legitimize an opaque offshore network often employed for nefarious purposes.

“They’re not cheating. They’re not hiding cash or disguising income,” said Samuel Brunson, a law professor at Loyola University Chicago who has studied endowment taxation. “But they’re adding money to a program that permits men and women, if they want to hide their cash, to do it.” Not only do the universities advantage — so does the wealthy and influential private equity market.

Maybe illustrating the sensitivity of the subject, officials at most of the college and university endowments that use blocker corporations, such as Colgate, Dartmouth, Duke and Stanford, declined to comment particularly, citing longstanding policies against discussing their investments. Among them was Matt Kavgian, the director of strategic communications for Indiana University’s $2 billion endowment, which had invested $ten million with Quintana.

An exception was the Quintana shareholder Texas Christian University, whose chief investment officer, Jim Hille, acknowledged that the $1.5 billion endowment had utilised blocker corporations. Mr. Hille stated the choice to use 1 often came down to whether or not the expected return would offset the price of establishing a blocker corporation.

References to such corporations in the Appleby files, shared with The New York Times by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which obtained them from the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, date back at least to 2003. At that time, five elite schools — Columbia University, Dartmouth College, the University of Southern California, Stanford University and Johns Hopkins University — became partners in a Bermuda-primarily based group called H&ampF Investors Blocker.

H&ampF Investors Blocker was formed to invest with a single of the largest private equity firms, Hellman &amp Friedman, in shares of Axel Springer, a German publisher of newspapers and magazines.

Minutes from meetings at Appleby’s office in Hamilton, Bermuda, never mention tax avoidance or even clarify why the word “blocker” is employed in the partnership’s title. But an audit by Ernst &amp Young, contained in the minutes, shows that H&ampF Investors Blocker would owe no federal earnings tax.

By 2008, the University of Texas system — whose endowment final year was $24.two billion, behind Harvard’s ($34.five billion) and Yale’s ($25.four billion) — asked Appleby to set up a Cayman Islands company named TX Liquidity Capital so “certain tax advantages will accrue to the program,” documents show.

Colgate University, with an endowment worth $822 million final year, stood to benefit from blocker corporations in 2008 when it invested in Genstar Capital, a private equity fund specializing in leveraged buyouts, according to the records. One particular investor in that Cayman Islands partnership, named Genstar Capital Partners V HV, took pains to consist of a handwritten a note close to his signature: “elect to invest by way of the blocker.” Other investors had been Dartmouth, Stanford and a Duke fund known as Gothic Corporation.

A Shift in Public Attitude

Even though legal, blocker corporations are component of a method of endowment tax breaks fueling an undercurrent of populist anger. Several students across the nation struggle under enormous college debt. At the very same time, critics say, some wealthy schools use these tax benefits to stockpile endowments that exceed the gross national solution of complete countries.

Last year, 3 influential Republican legislators, led by Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, sent a letter to 56 private universities with endowments of $1 billion or more, requesting data on “the many tax preferences” they get pleasure from. “Despite these huge and growing endowments,” the letter said, “many colleges and universities have raised tuition far in excess of inflation.”

So far, universities have mobilized lobbyists to emphasize the public advantages they provide, beating back challenges to their tax breaks. But there is proof that the mood has shifted, mentioned Charlie Eaton, a professor at the University of California, Merced, who has studied endowment tax breaks.

“In some approaches, the anti-elite and anti-university spirit of Trumpism could produce a favorable environment on Capitol Hill for some sort of action on this,” Dr. Eaton said. “That’s part of the purpose universities urgently need to grapple with this. Since individuals genuinely feel that our elite universities have turn into islands of wealth.”

In a study this year, Dr. Eaton estimated that a trio of tax breaks benefiting universities fees federal taxpayers $19.six billion a year. Taxpayers, many of them wealthy, get breaks when they donate to colleges. Tax-free of charge municipal bonds allow schools to borrow money at low prices. And for the most component, endowment investment returns are tax-free.

Controversial Ventures

Multiple Appleby documents supply a glimpse into the complicated financial transactions and investments, some controversial, that university endowments engage in all more than the planet, aside from utilizing blockers.

Universities have been beneath stress from both students and activists to shift to “green” investments in response to climate change, as properly as to take social policy and worldwide governance concerns into account in investments.

The Appleby records show that investment funds of Columbia and Duke, both ranked in the best 20 endowments, held shares as recently as 2015 in Ferrous Sources, registered in the Isle of Man. Its primary company is iron mining in Brazil.

The company drew criticism there with a planned 480 kilometer pipeline to transport iron slurry from a mine in Minas Gerais to a port.

“Major demonstrations took location against this project, which culminated in the creation of a campaign,’” researchers wrote in a 2015 paper published in the journal Society &amp Nature.

A 2010 environmental study of the pipeline revealed that a lot more than 110,000 folks might be affected by noise, dust, soil degradation and water good quality troubles. The project was postponed in 2012 after a downturn in iron costs.

The company, Ferrous Sources, declined to comment, except to say that the project had been discontinued.

Columbia, which owned more than eight million shares in Ferrous Recources, or 1.1 percent of the company, declined to comment. A variety of investment funds connected to Duke, which also declined to comment, held more than two million shares in the business.

Whilst some schools have announced shifts away from controversial investments, others have pointed out that divesting from fossil fuels would most likely lead to a important drop in operating funds.

Underscoring endowments’ reliance on hydrocarbon holdings, ten schools invested in a Cayman Islands partnership in 2012 recognized as EnCap Energy Capital Fund IX-C, part of EnCap Investments, a private equity firm recognized for the acquisition and improvement of North American oil and gas properties.

Amongst the investors have been the University of Alabama, DePauw, Northeastern, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Reed College, Rutgers, Syracuse, Texas Tech and Washington State.