A flurry of recent advisory opinions from the Department of Justice’s FARA unit raise new questions about how the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) might apply to the nonprofit community. Adding to the uncertainty, these opinions arrive just as momentum is increasing for DOJ to adopt new regulations to clarify and update the pre-World War II law that has seen aggressive enforcement in the last decade.

FARA generally requires agents of foreign principals engaged in certain activities within the United States to influence domestic and foreign policy to register and publicly disclose the relationship and their activities to DOJ. In the last few years, enforcement has ramped up, with multiple indictments in the wake of investigations into foreign interference in the 2016 elections. As a result, organizations with international connections have called for greater guidance on the reach of what is a notoriously vague law. To this end, DOJ began releasing heavily redacted advisory opinions interpreting FARA and its regulations.

A common theme among opinions released in February 2022 is the scope of the so-called academic exemption, one of several exemptions to the law’s registration and reporting requirements. Under this exemption, an agent working on behalf of any kind of foreign principal need not register under FARA if the activity performed on behalf of the principal promotes bona fide religious, scholastic, academic, or scientific pursuits or the fine arts. Nonprofits, including universities and other educational organizations, religious groups, and other charitable organizations, have long relied on this exemption when engaging in activities that may cause them to be considered an “agent” of a foreign entity.

Continue Reading New FARA Advisory Opinions Put Nonprofits on Notice

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) recently announced a $16,000 civil penalty against a political campaign, to settle allegations that the campaign had inappropriately used FEC contributor data in an algorithm used to aid its fundraising. The settlement is the latest in a series of decisions this year cracking down on the practice of using the FEC’s public contribution data to facilitate fundraising operations.

Contributor Data Disclosure

Federal campaign finance laws require all federal political committees to disclose the name, address, occupation, employer, and contribution amounts from donors who have given more than $200 per cycle. When the law was first written in the mid-1970s, there was no internet, so access to the records was very limited. Moreover, $200 then was worth nearly $1,000 in current dollars (so in fact it was a much larger contribution than it may first appear). Today, the FEC makes these disclosures public in a searchable online database, a tempting trove in an age when data has become integral to improving the efficiency of organizations’ public outreach.

Continue Reading FEC Cracks Down on Use of Contributor Data

The Senate today confirmed James E. “Trey” Trainor III as a member of the Federal Election Commission, reestablishing a quorum just months ahead of the 2020 general election. Since August 2019, when one of the commissioners resigned, the Commission has lacked a quorum, and as a result has been unable to investigate complaints, collect fines,

Federal and state regulators continue to modify their lobbying and campaign finance reporting and enforcement practices and requirements in response to the ongoing upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As states postpone primaries to prevent the spread of coronavirus, agencies have revised reporting deadlines for election-sensitive campaign finance reports. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) announced

As the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is felt around the country, states and cities are welcoming help from the private sector, including donations of medical supplies and equipment, professional services, and the use of real property. To facilitate this support, some jurisdictions have loosened or clarified their ethics laws to facilitate these “gifts” to

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) this week issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, asking for public comment on proposals for requiring “disclaimers” on online ads and fundraising. Under each of two similar proposals, paid Internet ads that expressly advocate for candidates or that solicit political donations must state who paid for the ad and