On Wednesday, January 17, 2018, the House Judiciary Committee voted 15-6 to report the Disclosing Foreign Influence Act (H.R. 4170) out of committee, taking a major step toward amending the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 (FARA).

As discussed in an earlier update, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley and Representative Mike Johnson introduced identical bills in the Senate and House that would remove a major exemption from FARA registration and give the Department of Justice new investigative powers. Significantly, the bills would allow the Department to issue mandatory “civil investigative demands” for information related to investigations of FARA compliance. Details on the markup of the Johnson bill in the House can be found here. The Grassley bill, which awaits Senate action, can be found here.

The House Judiciary Committee accepted two amendments in the markup:

  • A modification to the bill’s requirement that the Department of Justice develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to improve administration and enforcement of FARA. Offered by the sponsor, Representative Johnson, the amendment sets a 120-day deadline for the Department to develop its strategy; clarifies that the Department’s Inspector General shall issue a report on the use of the civil investigative demand power; and directs the Department to issue detailed annual reports which describe the results of issuing civil investigative demands and indicate whether the Attorney General subsequently filed charges for an alleged FARA violation.
  • A requirement that the Department of Justice issue a report on steps needed to update the FARA filing system in order to make the database of filings “fully searchable, sortable and downloadable.”

The House markup left in place two apparent anomalies in the bill:

  • The first is a provision requiring foreign agents who are also federally registered lobbyists to file FARA reports on Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 schedules. This appears to mean that foreign agents who lobby under the LDA would file reports under FARA more often than other foreign agents, who file only semiannually.
  • The second is that the bill affects only the so-called “LDA exemption” from FARA registration. It leaves in place other exemptions that apply when promoting a foreign principal’s “bona trade or commerce,” engaging in “other activities not serving predominantly a foreign interest,” and providing certain types of legal representation in courts and before federal agencies.

The Committee rejected several proposed amendments to limit the use of information obtained as a result of civil investigative demands and the scope of information that the Department may seek through a civil investigative demand. The bill’s new enforcement provisions remain a significant feature and may provide the bill’s most significant effects if enacted.