On June 10, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced legislation that seeks to amend the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) for the sake of improving overall compliance with and enforcement of the more than 80-year-old statute. Co-sponsored by Senators Feinstein (D-CA), Cornyn (R-TX), Shaheen (D-NH), Rubio (R-FL) and Young (R-IN), the bipartisan Foreign Agents Disclosure and Registration Enhancement Act grants the Department of Justice (DOJ) new investigative powers, increases criminal and civil penalties for violations of FARA, and would charge the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study whether, and to what extent, the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) exemption to FARA registration is being abused.
Specifically, the Foreign Agents Disclosure and Registration Enhancement Act aims to bolster FARA compliance and enforcement through three key amendments:
- Granting the Attorney General the power to issue civil investigative demands (CIDs) to compel production of information, such as documentary material or oral testimony, needed to assess whether certain activities undertaken by individuals or entities require FARA registration under existing statute.
- Increasing criminal fines for certain willful FARA violations from $10,000 to $200,000; increasing fines for deficient registration statements or unlawful contingent fee arrangements from $5,000 to $15,000; and implementing new fines, ranging from $1,000 to $200,000, for failure to file timely or complete registration statements, failure to file timely or complete supplemental disclosures, or failure to remedy deficient registration statements after notice.
- Empowering the DOJ to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy for improving compliance with and enforcement of FARA, which will be subject to GAO review and analysis. The GAO is also tasked with auditing current use of the LDA exemption to FARA registration to determine whether the exemption is operating as intended or creating opportunities for misuse.
Senator Grassley’s bill comes amidst increasing scrutiny of FARA’s effectiveness given recent high-profile battles over foreign influence of American politics and public policy. The Senator has been one of the more vocal Congressional critics of existing FARA enforcement and compliance, as evidenced by his attempt last Congress to introduce legislation that would have removed the LDA exemption in its entirety. The Foreign Agents Disclosure and Registration Enhancement Act therefore represents a shift in Grassley’s approach—one that seeks more foundational bipartisan support in an effort to get the bill to become law.
The Public Policy and Political Law teams here at Dentons will continue to monitor the bill’s progress in the coming months, and remain available to answer any FARA-related questions stakeholders might have in Washington and beyond.