Department of Justice Posts Foreign Agent Informational Materials Online

Perkins Coie

The Foreign Agents Registration Unit of the U.S. Department of Justice has updated its website to make available to the public searchable and downloadable informational materials filed by foreign agents. Informational materials are documents or other communications distributed on behalf of a foreign principal to two or more people. Examples of informational materials include press releases, emails sent to multiple recipients, white papers, websites, blogs and social media posts.

Previously, those seeking to review informational materials could only do so by filing requests with the Department of Justice. The updated website will make it far easier to access informational materials filed pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Clients may expect increased scrutiny of such materials given the ease with which reporters, advocacy groups and competitors may access and review them.

As a reminder, the Foreign Agents Registration Act requires agents of foreign principals to register, submit periodic reports of activities, and file copies of informational materials with the Department of Justice. Generally speaking, individuals or entities may qualify as foreign agents if they engage in political activities, act as a public relations counsel or political consultant, or raise funds within the United States on behalf of a government of a foreign country, a foreign political party, or a person or organization outside of the United States. Informational materials disseminated by a foreign agent on behalf of a foreign principal must be filed with the Department of Justice within 48 hours of transmittal and contain disclaimers stating that the material is distributed on behalf of the foreign principal.

Prior to the website update, the public could access informational materials by submitting requests to the Foreign Agents Registration Unit. The recent development permits interested parties to quickly and easily view all filed informational materials. These filings may contain distribution lists used by foreign agents for particular informational materials, including email addresses and other information. As of this writing, the Foreign Agents Registration Unit website only contains informational materials filed in 2017. We will update this alert if we learn of plans to broaden the materials posted online.

This change in the disclosure of informational materials comes while lobbying activities—even undisclosed ones—are drawing more and more attention. On February 28, 2017, a reporter for Politico Influence told subscribers: “Many of the top influencers in Washington are registered lobbyists. Many are not. PI is interested in covering some of those who aren't a little more closely. Spot someone who's not registered chatting with a member or lunching with a staffer? Get in touch ... Don't worry, I'll keep your name out of it.”

Entities that interact with the government should consult with counsel to determine whether these developments affect their current activities.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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