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Justice Dept. Improves Access to Foreign Lobbying Documents

A shot of various foreign banknotes and coins

In a win for government transparency, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has made a key set of foreign lobbying documents, known as informational materials, available online for the first time.

American lobbyists working on behalf of foreign governments or political parties are required to register with the DOJ and provide detailed descriptions of the work they’re doing to influence US policy for their foreign clients. The lobbyists file copies of their contracts, and every six months file reports describing their activities over that time period. All of these documents are publically available online.

But the lobbyists are also required to file any informational materials distributed to two or more people within 48 hours. Informational materials, formerly called political propaganda, are the documents they send to the policymakers they’re trying to influence. These materials include things like draft legislation, speeches, and press releases, and show how the lobbyists, in their own words, attempt to wield influence on behalf of their foreign clients.

Informational materials were previously only available in hard copy at the FARA Registration Unit in Washington, DC, which is only open to the public from 11am to 3pm on weekdays. But the DOJ has now updated its website to make informational materials available online for the very first time, beginning with those filed in 2017.

This is a huge win for government transparency. A 2014 Project On Government Oversight (POGO) report examined the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and found several loopholes and a pattern of lax enforcement by the DOJ, particularly related to how the agency enforces informational materials requirements. POGO built a database to provide searchable electronic versions of informational materials filed between 2009 and 2012 and recommended the DOJ make the documents electronically available going forward.

POGO is pleased to see the DOJ has done just that. As Sunshine Week puts the spotlight on open government, this is an excellent example of an agency proactively working to increase transparency.

Continue reading on the Straus Military Reform Project blog.

By: Lydia Dennett
Investigator, POGO

lydia dennett Lydia Dennett is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. Lydia works on safety and security of nuclear weapons and power facilities, foreign lobbying and influence, and works with Department of Veterans Affairs whistleblowers.

Topics: Government Accountability, Open Government

Related Content: Lobbying, Conflicts of Interest, Department of Justice, Foreign Lobbying

Authors: Lydia Dennett

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