Behind a Policy Gift to a Top Business School

Another day, another policy gift on campus.

There's been a bunch of them lately, coming at a time when U.S. political parties are being upended, wars are raging on multiple continents, and the world is still recovering from a financial crisis. No wonder donors want tomorrow's leaders to know a thing or two about policy, both domestic and global. 


UPenn's Wharton School of Business is one place where philanthropic dollars have played a key role in growing policy work. In 2012, Wall Streeters Marc Spilker and Marc Rowan, along with Spilker's wife Diane gave $11 million to establish the Wharton Public Policy Initiative (PPI) whose goal is to "leverage the University’s resources to foster better-informed policymaking on issues related to business and the economy." The Spilkers and Rowan are all UPenn alums.

PPI's efforts include summer internship programming for students in D.C., a new honors certificate program for students interested in domestic public policy and the economy, and lectures featuring senators, members of Congress and other policy leaders.

Now comes news of a recent $5 million gift from David J. Trone and his wife June M. Trone to Wharton to continue fueling the work of PPI. The Trone couple's gift will establish the Trone Family Public Policy Initiative Fund, providing funding for research and other critical support promoting "clear, fact-driven, accessible knowledge to stimulate policies that benefit the American public." The Trones graduated from Wharton in 1985 with MBAs. Trone, with his brother Robert (a Wharton guy, too, as well as a UPenn Law graduate), own Total Wine & More, a Maryland-headquartered national wine, beer, and spirits retailer that employs more than 5,000 individuals and operates over 150 superstores in 21 states.

Besides alumni loyalty, what exactly is behind the Trones' support of Wharton, especially in the realm of public policy?

First, via their David and June Trone Family Foundation, they've shown a preference for supporting their alma maters. The Trones have directed millions to Trone's undergraduate alma mater Furman University in South Carolina. One recent grant supported the Riley Institute of Government, Politics and Public Leadership at the school.

Another part of this story involves the ACLU and Trone's formative experiences as he was setting up his business. The Trones have been among ACLU's strongest supporters for some two decades. Their recent $15 million donation was the second largest in the criminal justice reform organization's history. (The largest, by the way, is a $50 million gift by Soros' Open Society Foundations). Late last year, in recognition of the couple's robust stewardship, the ACLU announced the creation of the Trone Center for Criminal Justice Reform.

As Trone launched his liquor business, he received a crash course in policy and politicsa reminder of how these worlds can impinge on plenty of careers that aren't directly focused in that area. Long story short, Trone had to navigate the world of established retailers, courts, and state liquor boards. Competitors lobbied legislature to pass a law to prohibit advertising beer prices, making it more difficult for consumers to know that Trone’s prices were lower. An AG even pursued charges against the Trone family, before the case was thrown out. 

Oh, the politics of liquor.

It's clear that these experiences have impacted Trone and have influenced his giving toward the ACLU and beyond. Currently, Trone, in addition to running his business, is also running for Congress in Maryland's 8th District—yet another reason why policy and politics are on this couple's mind.