A new piece of legislation introduced in the Senate Thursday aims to remove loopholes that lobbyists sometimes use to avoid disclosure when working overseas or with foreign clients.
McCaskill and Schumer
“The Closing the Foreign Lobbying Loophole Act” was introduced in Thursday’s session by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). The goal of the new bill is to close a little-known provision in the Dept. of Justice’s Foreign Agents Registration Act that allows U.S. lobbying activities to go unreported if occurring off U.S. soil, even if the work involves a U.S. government official.
Currently, FARA laws say lobbyists must disclose foreign clients to the Justice Dept. only if that client is being represented on U.S. soil. As such, it does not cover all U.S. lobbying activities abroad. Under the current laws, U.S. lobbyists could potentially influence foreign government policy — and foreign clients can potentially influence U.S. policy — without either being disclosed.
The new bill would also eliminate a default exemption that currently exists due to another registering law, the Lobbying Disclosure Act, or LDA. As it stands, lobbyists registered with the LDA are exempted from FARA registration. This creates another sort of loophole in that the LDA requires disclosure only of clients that comprise 20-percent or more or a lobbyist’s client base.
A press release sent from Sen. McCaskill’s offices states that abuse of these loopholes runs contrary to the entire purpose of FARA.
The FARA act was passed in 1938 as a means of keeping tabs on the U.S. PR industry when communications duties were performed on behalf of foreign governments and political parties. Specifically, Congress created the law to ensure that Nazi propaganda was not disseminated on U.S. soil. This arose from an incident in 1933, when American PR pioneer Ivy Lee was hired to give communications advice to Adolph Hitler and German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. Lee’s actions later took him before the U.S. House Special Committee where he was charged with being a Nazi propagandist.
The issue has come up again in recent months in a scandal involving John McCain’s Campaign Manager, Rick Davis. As reported by the New York Times, Davis had previously worked Ukraine politician Viktor Yanukovich, an opponent of the Ukrainian political candidate whom McCain — and President Bush — supports. This business alliance was never reported in FARA filings, though McCain has ostensibly known about the professional relationship for some time.
Senator Barack Obama has publicly backed the Schumer/McCaskill measure, and is an original co-sponsor of the bill.
“The public has a right to know when our government is being lobbied by foreign interests,” Sen. Schumer said in a press statement. “Right now, too many lobbyists are able to operate in the shadows because of loopholes in the law. Our bill would seal the cracks in the law. It may not be possible to ban these types of activities, but they should at least be transparent.”