Press Release

Senate Committee puts foreign lobbying in its sights

Current laws to ensure the public knows about the efforts of foreign governments to influence U.S. policies are inadequate and antiquated. Today, the Senate Judiciary Committeeis hearing testimony on the efforts of Russia to influence the U.S. 2016 elections as part of the Committee’s work on examining the law that requires American citizens working on behalf of foreign countries to register with the Justice Department.

The hearing is exploring the flaws and deficiencies in the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)--the law intended to provide transparency into how foreign governments attempt to influence U.S. policies on everything from foreign aid to multi-billion dollar arms deals.

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) submitted written testimony for the hearing based on investigations that uncovered weaknesses and loopholes found within the foreign lobbying system. In 2014, we released our report, Loopholes, Filing Failures, and Lax Enforcement: How the Foreign Agents Registration Act Falls Short.

POGO’s Lydia Dennett issued the comment below:

“The Justice Department relies on voluntary compliance by foreign agents, an enforcement mechanism that clearly isn’t working judging by the recent reports of undisclosed foreign influence from people like Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort.

We support Senator Grassley and the Judiciary Committee’s effort to shed a light on these issues and call on them to strengthen the Justice Department’s administration of the law.

Congress should clarify reporting requirements, provide the department the ability to levy civil fines, and close the exemption loopholes--specifically the one that would allow some lobbyists representing foreign interests not to register under FARA.

It’s also abundantly clear foreign influence goes well beyond lobbying. Congress should also review and consider reforms for how foreign governments have attempted to influence US policy by funding think tanks such as the Brookings Institution and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and questions of improper influence that were raised by the cozy relationship between the Clinton Foundation and foreign donors while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State.”