Make Lobbying for Foreign Interests More Transparent

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Sunlight will be making a big push in the 112th Congress for improvements to lobbying disclosure. As part of that effort, we will also call for amendments to the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the law that requires anyone who lobbies the U.S. government on behalf of a foreign interest to register and report his or her activities with the Justice Department.

FARA requires fairly detailed information from lobbyists, including the names of the government employees or Members of Congress contacted and the dates of each contact. (This fundamental information is not required by the Lobbyist Disclosure Act and is a reporting loophole Sunlight aims to close.) Unfortunately, many details regarding the work of foreign agents is hidden from public view because it is buried in unsearchable PDF documents. Sunlight and ProPublica have teamed up to put some of the FARA data in electronic form, but full transparency demands that FARA forms be electronically filed and all data reported made publicly available in searchable, sortable, downloadable databases.

In addition to electronic filing, FARA should be amended to ensure that supplemental forms are filed in real time—as soon as a reportable lobbying contact is made—rather than semiannually, as is currently required.

Finally, FARA amendments should close the loophole that permits lobbyists for foreign-owned corporations to file under the LDA instead of FARA. Because the LDA provides far less detailed information on lobbyists’ activities, lobbyists for foreign-owned corporations should be required to file under both Acts so as to accurately reflect and report all of their activities.

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