Washington—A bipartisan group of senators today introduced the Foreign Agents Registration Amendments Act, a bill to strengthen the Foreign Agents Registration Act, known as FARA, to ensure Americans acting as agents of a foreign government report their activities to the U.S. government.
The lead sponsors of the bill are Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.).
The bill would make the following reforms:
- Creates a dedicated enforcement unit in the National Security Division to enforce FARA provisions.
- Ends loopholes that allow individuals to avoid FARA enforcement actions.
- Updates and clarifies civil and criminal enforcement provisions.
- Increases public access to FARA disclosures.
“The goal of FARA is to ensure that individuals working on behalf of a foreign government or business disclose those relationships,” Feinstein said. “The public has a right to know if a foreign government is spreading propaganda in the United States. Unfortunately, FARA has not been adequately enforced, giving a free pass to individuals who fail to register and abide by its rules. This bill will provide new authorities and resources to the Justice Department that will dramatically improve FARA enforcement and help protect the integrity of our electoral process.”
“Simply stated, the intent of this law is to prevent foreign countries from interfering in our government,” Cornyn said. “Many of these governments do not share our values and seek to exploit our system by anonymously employing agents to undermine American interests. This law will ensure greater public transparency by requiring agents to register with the Justice Department and providing meaningful enforcement mechanisms for those who do not.”
“As our nation battles aggressive foreign disinformation efforts, we need FARA strictly and rigorously enforced,” Shaheen said. “This bipartisan legislation is long overdue and I urge leadership in Congress to allow for consideration in the near future. It’s absolutely imperative that the public be aware of who is acting on behalf of foreign governments, particularly our adversaries. I’m proud to support this legislation as it reinforces the intent of the original FARA law by enhancing enforcement.”
“Transparency is absolutely critical when individuals, groups or organizations in the United States are advocating on behalf of a foreign entity,” Young said. “Unfortunately, the DOJ inspector general has identified significant deficiencies in enforcing FARA. Last year, I introduced legislation to improve transparency and compliance with the law, and the bipartisan Foreign Agents Registration Amendments Act incorporates that legislation.”
Enacted in 1938, the Foreign Agents Registration Act requires that individuals, groups or organizations advocating on behalf of a foreign entity in the United States register with the Justice Department. The purpose of the law is to ensure the American public can clearly identify foreign propaganda and other information operations designed to influence U.S. policy and elections.
Generally, any agent of a foreign principle conducting political activities, publicity or advocacy in the United States must comply with the act’s registration and disclosure requirements. However, enforcement of these provisions is rarely conducted.
In 2016, The Justice Department’s inspector general documented significant deficiencies in the FARA program, particularly with respect to enforcement. The IG found that between 1966 and 2015, there were only seven criminal cases prosecuted under FARA.
Because FARA enforcement provisions are located in Title 22 rather than the federal criminal code, the DOJ’s FARA office interpreted its mandate as promoting voluntary compliance rather than criminal enforcement. The IG’s audit is available here.