Civil Society Provides Public Comment on Collection of Foreign Lobbying Documents

POGO and the Sunlight Foundation have issued reports with recommendations on how FARA should be improved. The Sunlight Foundation report focuses on how the DOJ should fix the FARA website, which is broken in many different ways, and also release the data in a structured format. POGO’s report, Loopholes, Filings Failures, and Lax Enforcement, does a deep dive into the lobbying data and highlights the failings of FARA and how it is enforced, with recommendations on how the underlying law should be changed. Those recommendations and additional calls for updates are summarized in the article “Tracking Lobbying by Foreign Governments,”published by Demand Progress.

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POGO Report on FARA Misses the Larger Point

POGO also appeared to criticize DOJ for not requiring more detailed disclosures of lobbyists’ contacts with public officials, observing (incorrectly) that registrants are “not explicitly required to provide specific information about their meetings or contacts with policymakers, such as who they met with or what they discussed, though some registrants choose to provide these details.”  Under guidance issued by DOJ, however, FARA registrants are required to provide a “description of all activities undertaken on behalf of, and all services rendered to, each foreign principal.”  When “reporting contacts with U.S. Government officials,” registrants must provide “the date of the contact; the name and title of the U.S. Government official contacted,” along with “the manner in which the contact was made . . . and a description of the subject matter discussed.”

POGO may not have been aware of this guidance because it is not published by the Department and is instead distributed directly to FARA registrants.  It would be helpful if the Department simply posted this guidance on its website.  Similarly, the Department over the years has issued written guidance in response to advisory opinion requests from registrants, which has been helpful in clarifying FARA’s reporting requirements.  Those opinions are not publicly available, however.  Publishing them on the Department’s website might help clarify the agency’s interpretation of the statute’s more ambiguous provisions.

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