Weak Oversight on Foreign Lobbyists

A federal law meant to track U.S. political activity by foreign interests suffers from lax enforcement, shoddy record keeping, glaring loopholes and in many cases outright disregard by the firms hired to lobby on behalf of foreign entities, according to a report published by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO).

POGO obtained and examined four years of records related to compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). POGO is making available to the public through a searchable database thousands of documents not previously accessible online — emails and other materials that show lobbyists in action communicating with government officials on behalf of foreign interests.


POGO’s investigation found that while federal law bars foreign money from U.S political campaigns, there were many instances in which members of lobbying firms made political contributions to members of Congress on the same day those firms lobbied them or their staff on behalf of foreign clients.

“Enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act is, to put it bluntly, a running joke,” said POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian. “The Justice Department hasn’t shown much of an interest in holding lobbyists accountable for flouting the law.”

POGO’s report includes recommendations on improving FARA oversight, including improving transparency, giving the Department of Justice authority to levy civil fines and increasing the amount of information lobbyists are required to file.

Toby Moffett, a former Member of Congress from Connecticut who is now Chairman of the Moffett Group and one of its registered lobbyists, told POGO researchers that “around the edges there’s a lot of loosey-goosey stuff going on.”

“People representing foreign interests and not reporting,” Moffett said.

But even when lobbyists do report to the Justice Department, the information they provide is not easily accessible to the public, the report found.

Informational materials are not available online, despite the fact that the Justice Department has an electronic filing system.

Instead, these documents are kept in an office at the Justice Department that is only open for four hours each weekday.

Hard copies of the documents are kept in folders that are often disorganized and susceptible to misfiling. This archaic system undermines the intended transparency of the law, the report found.

“When lobbyists for foreign interests do not follow the law, when the U.S. government fails to enforce it, and when the Justice Department makes it difficult for the American people to access records to which they are legally entitled, the public is left in the dark,” the report concluded.

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