Much ink has been spilled the past few years over the threat of foreign influence in our politics. It’s a topic I’ve spoken about many times on this floor. This issue has become highly politicized, but it requires bipartisan agreement to address. It’s increasingly clear that our adversaries will stop at nothing to influence our political discourse.
We can all agree that there’s a real need to improve our nation’s foreign influence laws. Fortunately, the Senate has a real opportunity today to finally do something about it.
In 1938, Congress passed the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) to expose Nazi propaganda and identify foreign attempts to influence policymakers and the American public. Last updated in 1966, FARA requires those who lobby on behalf of foreign governments and interests to register their affiliations and activities with the Justice Department.
FARA reflects the fundamental principle that transparency brings accountability. Until recently, however, the law had been seldom used – and few on K Street paid much attention to it.
Of course, that’s not due to a lack of foreign influence efforts.
Given FARA’s important transparency provisions, its lack of enforcement was shocking to me. I first raised concerns about lackluster FARA enforcement in April 2015 when a former Clinton White House staffer and a lawyer for a Georgian political party failed to register as foreign agents.
I also raised concerns about work for Ukrainians by Paul Manafort and the Podesta Group.
I raised concerns when the firm behind the discredited Steele Dossier failed to register for its lobbying work to repeal U.S. sanctions against Russia.
I even subpoenaed Manafort to testify at a Judiciary Committee hearing on lax FARA enforcement. I praised Mueller for dusting off the law that had been ignored for so long.
I’ve conducted FARA oversight without regard to power, party or privilege. Americans expect equal application of the law – no matter which political party someone is affiliated with. I’m an equal-opportunity overseer. FARA ought to be better enforced, and equally enforced. That’s why my office worked thoroughly to expose holes in the existing FARA law and find ways to shore it up.
My bipartisan Foreign Agents Disclosure and Registration Enhancement Act is the product of years of oversight and policy work.
The bill requires the Justice Department – for the first time – to craft a comprehensive FARA enforcement strategy, and to release advisory opinions to promote transparency. It gives FARA investigators new tools – including civil investigative demand authority – to help identify violations.
The bill appropriately limits who in the Justice Department can use this authority, and provides essential due process protections. In fact, it’s based on identical authorities in the False Claims Act, which for years has helped root out waste, fraud and abuse.
The bill also enhances penalties for FARA violations to deter future abuses. It requires foreign agents to immediately disclose their clients. That way, policymakers know the true source and can make the most informed decisions.
Finally, it requires a review of the Lobbying Disclosure Act exemption to determine whether it’s been abused to conceal foreign influence efforts.
Legitimate interests engaging in legitimate conduct shouldn’t bear an unnecessary burden. That’s why our bill strikes the right balance. But, we must also ensure that FARA’s exemptions haven’t created loopholes for foreign governments to hide their true intentions.
I’m pleased to have support from the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee and the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Intelligence Committee.
We have bipartisan support on the Foreign Relations Committee, including from Senators Shaheen, Rubio, Murphy and Young – who’ve all worked to shine light on foreign influence. And, we now have the sign-off of the Chairman of that Committee, along with support from this administration.
Groups like the Project on Government Oversight and Issue One endorse the measure, saying it, “directly addresses structural weaknesses of FARA.”
This is a truly bipartisan bill, with common ground where it’s usually tough to find it. The Senate should send a clear signal today that it’s serious about shining a light on foreign influence by passing this bill. Opposing it, in fact, would only help our foreign adversaries continue to hide what they're really doing.
So as if in legislative session, I request unanimous consent that the Foreign Relations Committee be discharged from further consideration of S.1762 and the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration. I further ask that the bill be considered read a third time and passed, and that the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table.
Mr. President, it’s disappointing that my Democratic colleagues – who’ve spent years lecturing this chamber and the American people about foreign influence – are unwilling to move forward today with this carefully crafted, broadly supported and strongly bipartisan bill. We have a real opportunity to peel back the curtain on foreign influence.
Senate Republicans, Democratic leadership in the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees and this Administration all agree that this bill is a real solution to a real problem. Apparently that’s not good enough.
I hope we can work together in the next Congress to address these important issues instead of holding out just to score political points.