Protecting Democracy FARA

Modernizing the Foreign Agents Registration Act

April 17 -
 17, 2019

Co-sponsored By:

Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law – University of Pennsylvania (CERL, Penn))
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The Conference

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The conviction of President Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, the recent arrest of President Obama’s former White House counsel, Greg Craig and Skadden Arps’ $4.6 million dollar settlement with the Department of Justice have thrust an obscure law into public view, the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Eighty years old and rarely enforced, the law had originally been designed to fight Nazi propaganda. But since the 2016 election more indictments for FARA violations have been brought than in the previous fifty years.

The idea that FARA could be used as one of the primary methods to combat foreign interference in democratic institutions has engendered a long overdue debate about this antiquated law. While the stakeholders in this debate disagree on many issues, there is general agreement that FARA is flawed and requires revision if the law is to be aggressively enforced.

While there is general consensus about the need for reform, every stakeholder group has found something about the law worthy of their ire. Those unsure of their obligation to register under FARA have bemoaned the “FARA feeding frenzy,” of increased enforcement. Good government groups, meanwhile, have been quick to point out that the new level of enforcement is relative to an extremely low bar of just seven criminal cases having been brought for FARA violations in the preceding fifty years. Civil society groups have raised concerns about FARA being used as a political weapon. Those concerns were borne out by last year’s seemingly politically motivated House Natural Resources Committee investigations, which alleged several prominent environmental nonprofits may need to register under FARA. Amidst the FARA furor, several law firms have established FARA advisory programs to help clients navigate the reporting requirements of FARA. Yet, good government groups have shown that many firms don’t actually fulfill FARA disclosure requirements. In addition, press freedom groups have warned about the dangers FARA-like proposals have posed to journalists abroad.

Congress has responded with an extraordinary number of proposals to reform FARA. The bills attempt to address concerns about FARA, including: limiting lobbying (LDA), religious, scientific, fine arts exemptions; revising reporting requirements (for foreign agents and the FARA Unit); expanding the FARA Unit’s enforcement toolkit; or by banning former political appointees from lobbying on behalf of foreign interests. In spite of this political will and bipartisan agreement none of these legislative proposals has ever made it to the floor of the House or Senate for consideration.

With such widespread political and public support, extensive legislative proposals already on the table, and a need to better defend American democracy, this is an ideal moment to pursue FARA reform. While stakeholder interests might be immensely varied, there are ample areas of overlapping concerns, and there are areas of FARA reform that merit prioritization

This conference will bring together experts from academia, the law, the private sector, and government to forge consensus on proposals for reform and formulate a plan to enact reforms on this critically important piece of legislation. 


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Location: American Enterprise Institute, 1789 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington D.C. 

1:00 – 1:10 pm Welcoming Remarks

1:10 – 2:20 pm 

Panel 1:  The Current State of FARA – Structural Issues and Enforcement

This panel will focus on the issues with the language of the statute and its enforcement. What specific statutory language needs to be supplemented, removed, or amended to provide clarity to law enforcement and those working on behalf of foreign governments? What are the resource constraints within the DOJ preventing adequate enforcement? Are the criminal and civil penalties sufficient to compel compliance? How have the recent indictments and civil penalties changed the current state of FARA practice by legal practitioners and lobbyists?

Moderator:  Claire Finkelstein , Co-founder and Faculty Director, CERL; Algernon Biddle Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania

2:20 – 2:30 pm Break 

2:30 – 3:45 pm

Panel 2: Building Consensus to Make FARA an Effective Tool for Exposing Foreign Influence

There are many legislative amendments to FARA under consideration by the Congress. This panel will focus on the merits of these proposed amendments and determine whether they adequately enable FARA to achieve its legislative purpose. Would any of these changes make FARA an effective tool for exposing foreign propaganda? Do the amendments correct both the structural defects in the law and the issues surrounding enforcement? Are the amendments overboard, potentially labeling legitimate domestic interests as foreign agents or encroaching on the rights of U.S. citizens?

Moderator:  Dr. Ben Freeman , Director, Foreign Policy Transparency Initiative, Center for International Policy 

3:45 – 4:00 pm Break  

4:00 – 5:00 pm 

Keynote Program

This portion of the symposium will be a moderated conversation between the panelists followed by questions and answers from the audience.

Mr. John Demers , Assistant Attorney for National Security, Department of Justice

Mr. Robert Kelner , Partner, Covington & Burling LLP

Professor Claire Finkelstein , Co-founder and Faculty Director, CERL; Algernon Biddle Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania

Moderator: Ms. Danielle Pletka , Senior Vice President, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute

5:00 – 6:00 pm – Reception 


Daniel Auble

Senior Researcher, The Center for Responsive Politics

Tessa Capeloto

Of Counsel, Wiley Rein

Carrie Cordero

Senior Fellow & General Counsel, Center for a New American Security

Jack Detsch

Staff Writer, Al-Monitor

Claire Finkelstein

CERL Founder & Faculty Director; Algernon Biddle Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania

Amy Jeffress

Partner, Arnold & Porter

Robert Kelner

Partner, Covington & Burling LLP

Carrie Levine

Deputy Federal Politics Editor and Senior Reporter, The Center for Public Integrity

Anna Massoglia

Researcher, The Center for Responsive Politics

Bryson Morgan

Of Counsel, Caplin & Drysdale

Nick Robinson

Legal Advisor, The International Center for Non-Profit Law

Matthew Sanderson

Member, Caplin & Drysdale

Brian D. Smith

Partner, Covington & Burling LLP

James A. Thurber

Distinguished University Professor of Government, American University

Christopher Welsh

Executive Director, CERL

Background Readings

Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 (as amended, at 22 U.S.C. § 611 et seq.)                                          

Title 28 C.F.R. Part 5                                                                                                                                         

FARA Statutory Index                                                                                                                                          

Nick Robinson “Foreign Agents” In an Interconnected World: FARA and the Weaponization of Transparency  ICNL Working Paper February 2019                                                                             

Dept. of Justice Settlement Agreement with Skadden Arps (2019 )                                

David Laufman Paul Manafort Guity Plea HIghlights Increased Enforcement of Foreign Agents Registration Act Lawfare September 2018                                                                                     

Katie Benner Justice Dept. to Step Up Enforcement of Foreign Influence Laws The New York Times March 2019

Ben Freeman US Foreign Policy is for Sale The Nation February 2019                                                                  

Ben Freeman The Saudi Lobby: How the Kingdom wins in Washington Center for International Policy October 2018                                                                                                                                                                   

Arie J Lipinski The Foreign Agents Registration Act Comes to Light Amidst Probe into Russian Election Meddling: An Effort to Crack Down on Foreign Lobbyists or a Sign of Corruption  March 2018            

Jahad Atieh Foreign Agents: Updating FARA to protect American Democracy University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law 2010                                                                           

Yuk K. Law The Foreign Agents Registration Act: A New Standard for Determining Agency Fordham International Law Journal 1982                                                

Francis R. O’Hara The Foreign Agents Registration Act-The Spotlight of Pitiless Publicity Villanova Law Review 1965          

Natasha Bertrand A Surge in Foreign-Influence Prosecutions The Atlantic December 2018                                   

Michael I. Spak America for Sale: When Well Connected Former Federal Officials Peddle Their Influence to the Highest Bidder-A Statutory Analysis and Proposals for Reform of the Foreign Agents Registration Act and the Ethics in Government Act Kentucky Law Journal 1989-1990                                           

Sarah N. Lynch Pakistani Pleads Guilty, Failed to Register as U.S. Foreign Agent Reuters May 2018                  

Josh Gerstein Lawmakers Push for Al Jazeera to Register as Foreign Agent Politico March 2018                        

9/11 Families & Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism  9/11 Families’ Request for National Security Investigation Into Potential Criminal Violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act by Agents of the Saudi Arabian Government March 2017  

Matthew Armstrong RT As A Foreign Agent: Political Propaganda In A Globalized World May 2015                                                                                                                                                                

Brian McGlinchey Meet 70 Americans Working for Saudi Arabia Against 9/11 Justice March 2017

Contact us

For any questions regarding the conference or registration, please contact: Jennifer Cohen at

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