Underpinning the 12-count indictment against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and his colleague Rick Gates are facts demonstrating willful and knowing violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA.) The indictment likely means that after many years of lax enforcement, the requirements of this law will finally be taken seriously by the hundreds of law firms, lobbying shops and media relations companies that fall under its purview, Politico reports. Enacted in the 1930s to expose Nazi propagandists working secretly in the United States, FARA requires that any individual or organization that undertakes “political activities” for a foreign client must register with the Department of Justice and disclose significant amounts of information about the work done for that foreign client and the money earned and expended. Registration is triggered by a broad range of activity not thought of as traditional lobbying, such as strategic advice, coalition-building, grassroots lobbying, communications advice and attempts to influence U.S. media and opinion-makers. Willful and knowing violations of FARA can lead to criminal and civil penalties.
It has been an open secret that many U.S. advisers and influence-peddlers working for foreign government entities have not registered under FARA. The DOJ FARA Registration Unit has encouraged “voluntary” compliance with FARA rather than prosecution. There have been only eight criminal indictments for FARA violations since the 1960s. Last year, DOJ’s Inspector General noted a disconnect between the FARA office and the FBI on the applicability and scope of the law. The IG said the FARA office had just eight employees, only three of whom were attorneys, and that a significant number of registrations and required disclosures were late and likely deficient. DOJ “should develop a comprehensive enforcement strategy for FARA that fits within its overall national security effort,” the IG said.