Bill Promises Closer Scrutiny of Foreign Government Lobbyists

Posted by Dale Eisman on December 19, 2017

Bipartisan good government legislation is in short supply around the U.S. Capitol these days, so we should celebrate when we find it.

Common Cause and groups including the Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Public Citizen, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), and the Sunlight Foundation are doing just that today, urging prompt passage of the “Disclosing Foreign Influence Act (H.R. 4170 and S. 2039).

Introduced by Rep. Michael Johnson, R-LA, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-IA, and a bipartisan collection of co-sponsors, the bill would overhaul the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) to more closely monitor the work of individuals and groups that lobby Congress and government agencies on behalf of foreign governments.

The legislation would close a loophole in the Lobbying Disclosure Act that relaxed disclosure rules for foreign government lobbyists, strengthen the investigative authority of the Justice Department unit assigned to enforce FARA, and direct the attorney general to develop a strategy for enforcement.

The bill follows release of a Justice Department inspector general’s report highlighting weaknesses in the current FARA, a law that apparently has been honored in the breach. Among other things the audit revealed a 60 percent drop in the number of registrants since the mid-1990s, a general disregard for requirements that disclosures be filed accurately and on time, and weak enforcement of the law by the Justice Department.

“There is also a need for additional enhancements of the FARA disclosure database, which are not yet included in this legislation,” the groups said in letters to House and Senate committees reviewing the legislation. “For example, we would like to see the FARA Unit require electronic filing of all lobbying reports in a digitized format which, in turn, should then make the on-line FARA database fully searchable, sortable and downloadable. These improvements could be added to the legislation as it moves forward.”


Office: Common Cause National

Issues: More Democracy Reforms

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