WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — Purdue University President Mitch Daniels said his trip to a conference in Georgia attended by several Republican presidential hopefuls was a chance to promote the school and meet potential donors.
The former Indiana governor said his decision to speak at the American Enterprise Institute’s private event in early March was appropriate despite his pledge to avoid partisan politics after taking over the Purdue presidency last year.
“I went to this thing, as I have for three years, to learn,” Daniels told the Journal & Courier.
Also, he said, “One of the biggest donors — and potential donors — to Purdue were down there.”
Daniels was among three Republicans — along with Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder — slated to lead a discussion during the event titled “How to Fix the States.”
Other attendees during the three-day meeting at The Cloister resort in Sea Island, Georgia, reportedly included such potential 2016 presidential hopefuls as Gov. Scott Walker and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Joe Perkins, a 1972 Purdue graduate who is a member of the Society for an Open, Accountable Purdue, said believed Daniels wasn’t living up to his pledge to stay out of politics.
“Daniels said before he became Purdue’s president that he promised to stop being a politician,” Perkins said. “If he is slated to join in on these meetings, he is again breaking his word.”
Daniels said last year he made a mistake in giving a paid speech at a conservative group’s fundraiser in Minnesota after starting his Purdue job.
Daniels said there are differences between the Minnesota event, where he was a featured speaker, and the Georgia conference, where he was among 200 or 300 in attendance. He also said he’s being held to a double standard, since other university presidents attend such think tank conferences without such scrutiny.
“I considered this a trip of use to Purdue,” said Daniels, who traveled on a university-owned plane to and from the event.