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Shaheen & Bipartisan Group of Senators Introduce Legislation to Boost Disclosure of Foreign Lobbying

(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a member of both the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, introduced legislation with a bipartisan coalition of Senators — led by Chuck Grassley (R-IA) — 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-CA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Todd Young (R-IN).

“As our adversaries broaden their attacks on our democratic institutions, we urgently need to be working in a bipartisan way to bolster our defenses,” said Senator Shaheen. “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.”

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. Those prosecutions include that of former Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who was indicted under FARA violations. 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 the lead Democrat on the Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the Department of Justice, Senator Shaheen has prioritized efforts in Congress to bolster the Department of Justice’s authority to investigate potential violations of FARA. Shaheen previously spearheaded bipartisan legislation with Senator Todd Young that would give DOJ new authority to investigate potential violations of the law, and last year, Shaheen and Young introduced another bipartisan bill with Senators Feinstein and Cornyn to further strengthen FARA to ensure Americans acting as agents of a foreign government report their activities to the U.S. government.

Bill text of the Foreign Agents Disclosure and Registration Enhancement Act is available here.