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Foreign Agents Lobbying Reform

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In today's edition, The New York Times reports on legislation that's meant to close a loophole lobbyists use to cloak their work for foreign clients. U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Claire McCaskill introduced changes to the Foreign Agents Registration Act earlier today, according to The Hill.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act, enacted in the 1930s, governs foreign lobbying.The law is outdated and needs to be updated to meet the needs of the current global nature of lobbying, according to The Times. The legislation would require lobbyists who represent foreign businesses, politicians and other entities to disclose more information about their relationships.

For instance, current law does not require lobbyists to register with the Justice Department if their meetings with American officials on behalf of foreign clients take place outside the United States. The Schumer-McCaskill bill would close the foreign soil loophole. As both The Times and The Hill report, the issue of foreign lobbyists has become an early skirmish in the general election battle.

While these are certainly welcome fixes, they might want to address the woefully inadequate public disclosure system as well. The FARA database is one of the most user-unfriendly sites ever devised by government, and that's say something. Why not require digital submissions of FARA disclosure forms (bringing it into line with the Lobbyist Disclosure Act) and provide some money for a better Web site, complete with downloadable data. Closing loopholes in disclosure is useful, but if the public can't get to the data, it doesn't do much good.