This week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., joined a push to crack down on foreign lobbyists.
Rubio joined U.S. Sens. John Cornyn, R-Tex., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, and Todd Young, R-Ind., to champion the “Foreign Agents Disclosure and Registration Enhancement Act.” Rubio’s office insisted the bill will “bring further transparency and accountability to efforts by foreign interests to influence American policy and public opinion” and add “teeth to existing law aimed at ensuring public awareness of lobbying campaigns pushed by foreign powers.” Grassley introduced the bill on Monday.
The bill would update the federal Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), first passed in 1938 to crack down on Nazi propaganda, by giving the U.S. Justice Department “more tools to investigate possible violations and increasing penalties for failure to properly register as a foreign agent” and by improving “FARA advisory opinion transparency and requires the Government Accountability Office to study whether and to what extent the Lobbying Disclosure Act exemption is being abused to conceal foreign lobbying activity.”
On Monday, Rubio explained why he was supporting the bill.
“I am pleased to join my colleagues in sponsoring this bipartisan bill to protect the integrity of democracy from foreign interference and influence campaigns,” Rubio said. “Extensive foreign influence efforts are ongoing in our universities, state, local and federal governments, and even private sector corporations. I will continue to focus on bipartisan efforts to make it clear that we will hold individuals and foreign governments accountable who would attempt to interfere in our democracy.”
“If lobbyists or public relations firms are peddling policy preferences at the behest of foreign powers, we ought to know about it. Long before Special Counsel Mueller’s team sparked a renewed interest in enforcing the Foreign Agents Registration Act, I was raising concerns about undisclosed foreign lobbying and a lack of FARA enforcement. This bill gives the Justice Department new tools to detect and deter secret foreign lobbying and ensures policymakers and the American public know when influence campaigns are being pushed by foreign interests,” Grassley said.
“FARA is meant to ensure one thing: that Americans working on behalf of foreign governments and political parties disclose those relationships. Unfortunately, this law is routinely ignored and too often enforcement is lacking. Our bill provides tools and resources in order to improve the enforcement of FARA in order to protect our electoral process and other institutions. We know that Russia, China and other foreign actors continue to work to influence Americans; FARA is one key tool to ensure they’re not successful,” Feinstein said.
“Foreign governments seeking to influence American institutions sometimes attempt to evade these important transparency requirements. This legislation would give the Department of Justice more resources to investigate actions by foreign powers and put into place enforcement mechanisms to ensure those who do not comply face consequences,” Cornyn said.
“As our adversaries broaden their attacks on our democratic institutions, we urgently need to be working in a bipartisan way to bolster our defenses. Foreign governments continue to exploit weaknesses in our laws which is why it’s long past time to give FARA real teeth. Our legislation is the product of a clear-eyed assessment of FARA and will help better identify foreign lobbying activity and level stronger punishment for violators. I’m glad that we’re working across the aisle on this effort and I urge Leader McConnell to bring this bill to the floor,” Shaheen said.
“This legislation aims to strengthen rules to ensure individuals working on behalf of foreign entities report their activities. Doing so gives the FBI more tools to protect our national security interests and will ensure greater transparency,” Young said.
The bill was sent to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday. So far, there is no counterpart over in the U.S. House.