Foreign dictionary: Translating FARA terms into plain English

An open book on a table with several closed books lined up in a row in the background
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes the vocabulary used in Foreign Agents Registration Act forms can be confusing. Here are some key terms and what they mean:

  • AB: These are two forms (A and B) that a foreign agent must file with the Department of Justice when the individual or company acquires new clients. These forms include information about the client (foreign government or interest), describe the work that the registrant expects to do for that client and include a copy of any written agreement between the foreign client and U.S.-based agent.
  • Amendment: Foreign agents file this document with the Department of Justice to make corrections or changes to other forms. If you are writing a story about a foreign agent or client, you might want to check the agent’s profile page for amendment forms we haven’t had a chance to enter into our database.
  • Contacts: Any outreach by a foreign client aimed at influencing public or political opinion. This includes contacts with lawmakers, other government officials, or staff members, as well as with news outlets, conferences, trade associations or other members of the American public. These can include phone calls, face-to-face meetings, emails and speeches. Here’s a complete list.
  • Client: The foreign country, political party, company, organization or individual seeking to influence policy or public opinion in the United States. Note that the Lobby Disclosure Act of 1995 gave foreign individuals and private organizations the option of registering under LDA (forms available through Congress) instead of FARA, though governments, political parties and government-controlled organizations must always register under FARA.
  • Disbursements: These are effectively expense reports — the expenses foreign agents incur during the course of representing their clients. Here is a complete list.
  • Document profile: This feature, which can be accessed by clicking the document icon: on the far right of many of our Foreign Influence Explorer pages, allows you to double check our data by taking you to an index page of an original filing and a view of the document filed with the Department of Justice. From these document profile pages, you can download a spreadsheet of the data related to that document or the document itself.
  • Location: We use this term in lieu of “country” because while many of the “locations” included in our data base are recognized universally as countries, others are not. These include entities such as Taiwan, Tibet and Palestine.
  • Foreign agent: See “registrant” below.
  • Payments: The fees or other income that lobbyists, lawyers, and other representatives received for their work on behalf of foreign clients. Here is a complete table.
  • Political action committees (PACs): Groups set up by political parties, candidates, or interest groups to collect campaign donations. They are regulated by and required to deliver regular disclosures to the Federal Election Commission. Power user tip: We have found that the political donations in our FARA database do not necessarily correspond with totals on record at the Federal Election Commission. The numbers in the FARA filings are reported by the lobbyists who make the donations. The numbers at the FEC are reported by the candidates who receive the donations. Sometimes there can be discrepancies that might be worth investigating.
  • Political contributions: Lobbyists or other individuals or groups who represent foreign clients are required to report their donations to political campaigns to the Justice Department. Here’s a complete list. Foreigners are prohibited from making contributions to U.S. campaigns.
  • Registrant: Also known, in Justice Department parlance, as “foreign agent,” or, on our Foreign Influence Explorer site, as a “representative.” These are individuals, businesses or organizations hired to represent a foreign government, individual, business or organization in the United States. In many cases, this will be an American lobbyist, lawyer, publicist or their firms. But it can also be the foreign organization itself, such as a tourism board or a trade promotion agency.
  • Registration: This is a form that a foreign agent must file with the Justice Department within 10 days of agreeing to represent a foreign client. The registration form includes much of the same key information that the supplemental forms do: names of employees representing the foreign client or clients, the names of the clients, a general overview of the work being done for the client, plus any payments received from the foreign client, and the agent’s political contributions plus any disbursements made for expenses and activities.
  • Supplemental: This is the semiannual disclosure form that foreign agents must file with the Justice Department and it contains the bulk of the information we digitize for our Foreign Influence Explorer. Supplemental forms provide exceptionally detailed information about what foreign agents do for their clients. This can include contacts with members of Congress, their staff or executive branch officials or members of the media. Activities can also include organizing conferences, sending out press releases or placing op-eds. Supplemental forms also contain key information such as payments to agents from foreign clients, political contributions and disbursements that are used to pay for expenses and activities. These forms are filed every six months; the due date is determined by the date a foreign agent originally registered.
  • Thing of value: Foreign clients (or lobbyists) may end up compensating one another by providing goods or services rather than cash. In such cases, FARA requires that lobbyists and other filers list each of these transactions and estimate the worth of these goods or services.

Questions? Comments? We want your feedback on this project. Let us know what you think here. (Contributing: Palmer Gibbs, Kathy Kiely, Peter Olsen-Phillips, Art Pine, Ryan Sibley, Lindsay Young)