Grassley Leads Bipartisan Bill to Boost Disclosure of Foreign Lobbying
Jun 10, 2019
Congressional oversight, special counsel probe reveal compliance, enforcement lapses
WASHINGTON – A bipartisan coalition of senators, led by Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), introduced legislation to shine a light on efforts by foreign interests to influence American policy and public opinion. The Foreign Agents Disclosure and Registration Enhancement Act of 2019 adds teeth to existing law aimed at ensuring public awareness of lobbying campaigns pushed by foreign powers. The bill is cosponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.).
“If lobbyists or public relations firms are peddling policy preferences at the behest of foreign powers, we ought to know about it. Long before Special Counsel Mueller’s team sparked a renewed interest in enforcing the Foreign Agents Registration Act, I was raising concerns about undisclosed foreign lobbying and a lack of FARA enforcement. This bill gives the Justice Department new tools to detect and deter secret foreign lobbying and ensures policymakers and the American public know when influence campaigns are being pushed by foreign interests,” Grassley said.
“FARA is meant to ensure one thing: that Americans working on behalf of foreign governments and political parties disclose those relationships. Unfortunately, this law is routinely ignored and too often enforcement is lacking. Our bill provides tools and resources in order to improve the enforcement of FARA in order to protect our electoral process and other institutions. We know that Russia, China and other foreign actors continue to work to influence Americans; FARA is one key tool to ensure they’re not successful,” Feinstein said.
“Foreign governments seeking to influence American institutions sometimes attempt to evade these important transparency requirements. This legislation would give the Department of Justice more resources to investigate actions by foreign powers and put into place enforcement mechanisms to ensure those who do not comply face consequences,” Cornyn said.
“As our adversaries broaden their attacks on our democratic institutions, we urgently need to be working in a bipartisan way to bolster our defenses. Foreign governments continue to exploit weaknesses in our laws which is why it’s long past time to give FARA real teeth. Our legislation is the product of a clear-eyed assessment of FARA and will help better identify foreign lobbying activity and level stronger punishment for violators. I’m glad that we’re working across the aisle on this effort and I urge Leader McConnell to bring this bill to the floor,” Shaheen said.
“I am pleased to join my colleagues in sponsoring this bipartisan bill to protect the integrity of democracy from foreign interference and influence campaigns. Extensive foreign influence efforts are ongoing in our universities, state, local and federal governments, and even private sector corporations. I will continue to focus on bipartisan efforts to make it clear that we will hold individuals and foreign governments accountable who would attempt to interfere in our democracy,” Rubio said.
“This legislation aims to strengthen rules to ensure individuals working on behalf of foreign entities report their activities. Doing so gives the FBI more tools to protect our national security interests and will ensure greater transparency,” Young said.
Congress passed the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) in 1938 to identify Nazi propaganda and other foreign efforts to influence U.S. policy. The law requires anyone working on behalf of a foreign government, political party or entity to influence U.S. policy or public opinion to register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent. However, since it was updated in 1966, FARA has only been used in 15 criminal prosecutions – seven of which stemmed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. The Foreign Agents Disclosure and Registration Enhancement Act strengthens FARA by providing the Justice Department with more tools to investigate possible violations and increasing penalties for failure to properly register as a foreign agent. The bill also improves FARA advisory opinion transparency and requires the Government Accountability Office to study whether and to what extent the Lobbying Disclosure Act exemption is being abused to conceal foreign lobbying activity.
As then-Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley raised concerns about lax FARA enforcement in 2015 regarding lobbying work by former Clinton administration officials for a Georgian political party, and again in 2016 regarding a Russian effort to overturn U.S. sanctions. Grassley also raised concerns about work for Ukrainians by Paul Manafort and the Podesta Group and about a report that the Democratic National Committee engaged with Ukraine to undermine the Trump campaign. Grassley later held a hearing on the issue where Paul Manafort was subpoenaed to testify. Manafort was later indicted for FARA violations.
More information on Foreign Agents Disclosure and Registration Enhancement Act