The Department of Justice unveiled indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort today (Oct. 30).
The indictment contains 12 counts. conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading FARA statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.
One charge in particular intrigued me, that Manafort acted as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal under the the federal Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), enacted in 1938 to counter Nazi propagandists and amended in 1966 to regulate political and economic lobbyists.
The fact is FARA is a paper tiger, frequently ignored and rarely enforced.
FARA requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities. There are about 2,000 foreign agents registered under the Act representing more than 100 countries.
The Center for Public Integrity released a study, “The hired guns who advocate for the world’s worst human rights abusers” – a research report that highlighted the PR firms that make the most money representing clients that violate human rights.
The study said FARA records revealed that “that the 50 countries with the worst human rights violation records have spent $168 million on American lobbyists and public relations specialists since 2010.”
The fact is, Washington, D.C. is packed with public relations professionals and lobbyists who work for foreign governments, many of them with reputations for corruption and human rights abuses.
Another fact is that the registration process under FARA is often altogether ignored or treated as an afterthought, with many registrants filing retroactive registrations, or only supplying partial submissions.
An internal DoJ audit of the NSD’s enforcement and administration of FARA, conducted in 2016, found that only 23 percent of filings from 2013 to 2015 were filed on time—62 percent were submitted late. Likewise, only 44 percent submitted their supplemental statements in a timely fashion, and 10 percent did not submit any follow-up supplemental materials.
“The Congress didn’t necessarily want to have a strong enforcement mechanism, ” said Kenneth Doyle, the Senior Editor for Bloomberg’s Money & Politics Report. ” There are principal reasons in terms of the First Amendment and not wanting to be too tough on people’s ability to petition the government, and then there are practical reasons of not wanting to be too tough on lobbyists who are important to the way that Washington works. I think they did it deliberately, saying, ‘Well, we’ll have a disclosure system, but it’s not going to have a strong enforcement mechanism and we’ll see what happens.”