What is the Foreign Agents Registration Act?
People who follow political news have heard a lot recently about something called the Foreign Agents Registration Act, more commonly known as FARA. Two former associates of President Trump have or indicated that they will be registering as foreign agents with the Department of Justice. Both men, Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort, reportedly admitted to lobbying on behalf of Russia without notifying the DOJ, which is a violation of federal law.
The FARA was enacted in 1938 into mandate lobbyists and others working for a foreign government to make those ties public. The goal was to uncover any foreign influence on U.S. campaigns. Congress was concerned about Nazi propaganda making its way into American politics in the years prior to America's involvement in World War II.
Under FARA, Americans are required to register with the DOJ within 10 days of signing on to perform work for a foreign government or a political cause in another country before they begin that work. These foreign agents must then file reports twice a year for as long as their work continues.
Foreign Agent Registration Act cases are rarely prosecuted. It can be difficult for prosecutors to show that someone willfully violated the law or had any intention to bring harm to the U.S. Further, even if people register under FARA after their work has begun or finished, the DOJ may not prosecute them.
Obviously, many Americans are doing work in and for foreign countries. Not all are subject to FARA. For example, those engaged in solely academic, scientific, commercial or religious activities, as well as foreign government officials and diplomats, are exempt.
If someone has any doubts about whether the work they will be doing is a violation of FARA, it's wise to contact an attorney with experience handling federal cases. This can save you time, stress and potential criminal consequences later.