Foreign lobbying needs scrutiny

Sen. Charles Grassley is working to improve its policing

Foreign governments frequently have reasons to try to influence our nation’s governmental institutions. Sometimes these efforts are clandestine such as the Russian intrusions into our electoral processes in 2016. Often, however, they are relatively straightforward endeavors. Lobbying efforts aimed to influence members of Congress are in the latter category.

When foreign governments employ American lobbyists or public relations firms to champion their goals, it’s important that the American public know precisely who is behind each lobbying campaign. Congress has long attempted to bring about such transparency. It has enacted laws requiring disclosure by anyone attempting to influence public policy or public opinion in general of any relationships that exist with a foreign government, political party or entity. In 1938, Congress passed the Foreign Agents Registration Act, known as FARA. That act got a major update in 1966. Unfortunately, the statute is rather weak and has not been vigorously enforced.

That’s why U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley has joined with five other senators in a bipartisan effort to improve the law and give the Justice Department more adequate tools and resources to “detect and deter secret foreign lobbying.” The Iowa Republican has partnered in this important undertaking with Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.). Together they have sponsored the Foreign Agents Disclosure and Registration Act of 2019.

“If lobbyists or public relations firms are peddling policy preferences at the behest of foreign powers, we ought to know about it,” Grassley said in a statement announcing this collaboration.

According to Grassley, it is the goal of this legislation to make certain that Americans know “when influence campaigns are being pushed by foreign interests.”

This is not a new concern for him.

“Long before Special Counsel Mueller’s team sparked a renewed interest in enforcing the Foreign Agents Registration Act, I was raising concerns about undisclosed foreign lobbying and a lack of FARA enforcement,” Grassley said.

During his time as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Iowa’s senior senator raised concerns about lax enforcement of FARA in 2015 and has been a consistent advocate of stronger policing of foreign lobbying and other efforts to influence our nation’s institutions.

The Messenger welcomes this important legislative initiative. We commend Grassley for his hard work to bring about better enforcement of existing disclosure rules. Working together with senators from both parties improves the likelihood that this bill will become law. Grassley has a long history of reaching across the partisan divide to get needed things done for our nation. We wish more lawmakers in Washington would emulate that approach.