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Foreign Agents Registration Act

*This guide was originally published in 2018 and we have updated it periodically.

January 31, 2023, Covington Guide

In 1938, Congress enacted the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”), requiring “foreign agents” to register with the Attorney General. As amended over the years, it applies broadly to anyone who acts on behalf of a “foreign principal” to, among other things, influence U.S. policy or public opinion. Until recently, it was a backwater of American law—and a very still backwater at that, with just seven prosecutions between 1966 and 2016.

That now has changed. Like the once obscure Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prosecutors revived from hibernation some years ago, FARA is receiving its close-up. Prosecutors have brought more FARA prosecutions in the last several years than they had pursued in the preceding half century. In-house lawyers have scrambled to bone up on this famously vague criminal statute, at a time when the nation’s tiny bar of experienced FARA lawyers can still hold its meetings in the back of a mini-van.

While cases related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation are the most salient examples, the renewed focus on foreign agents actually began prior to the Mueller investigation and has continued long after the Special Counsel closed up shop. A significant uptick in audits of registered foreign agents by the FARA Unit (the Department of Justice office that administers FARA), followed by significant staffing changes in the FARA Unit, and then noticeably more aggressive interpretations of the statute in advisory opinions and informal advice from the FARA Unit, all have signaled a sea change.

Continue Reading The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA): A Guide for the Perplexed

There is near universal agreement among policymakers, lawyers, and lobbyists that the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”) is deeply in need of legislative reforms to update the statute and bring it in line with modern practices. Agreeing on specific amendments, however, has been challenging, and several prior efforts ended with no new enactments, as we

The House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties held a hearing on Tuesday on potential reform of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”), the first FARA hearing by the House Judiciary Committee in over 30 years.

FARA is an arcane statute that requires “agents of foreign principals” engaged in certain

The Department of Justice’s FARA Unit released several new advisory opinions today interpreting the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”) and its regulations.  While the newly published opinions addressed a number of topics, the FARA Unit’s scrutiny of the activity of nonprofits was a prominent and recurring theme.

Many nonprofits, think tanks, universities, religious organizations, educational

With a growing chorus of support across the progressive landscape, the For the People Act of 2021 has emerged as a key legislative priority for congressional Democrats in the 117th Congress. Envisioned as a “transformational anti-corruption and clean elections reform package,” the bill would enact sweeping changes to federal election laws along with important changes

On Wednesday, December 16, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sought, and failed to achieve, unanimous consent to pass legislation that would have granted significant new powers to the Department of Justice to enforce compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act.  In objecting to passage, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said that the Senate should “take a step

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