Schumer, McCaskill Offer Bill to Strengthen FARA

Posted June 12, 2008 at 2:47pm

Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) this afternoon announced legislation that could dramatically change the lobbying-disclosure requirements for foreign corporation clients.

The legislation, which is also backed by Democratic White House contender Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), would require lobbyists to disclose and report any activities on behalf of foreign corporations to the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

It would also require lobbyists to disclose under FARA any lobbying meetings they have with U.S. officials on foreign soil, Schumer and McCaskill said.

Currently, lobbyists can disclose foreign corporation clients under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, which requires much less information than FARA reports.

FARA registration currently applies only to lobbyists representing foreign governments and foreign political parties.

Schumer said the changes would not impede any lobbying on behalf of foreign clients but would “make sure those activities are not undertaken in the dark.”

He added, “Sen. McCaskill and I want to plug the loopholes, beef up FARA. Sen. McCaskill and I are talking about something we believe is very important to the transparency and security of our democracy.”

McCaskill said the bill was particularly important in light of a Wednesday bid by the Belgian-Brazilian brewing company InBev to purchase Missouri-based Anheuser-Busch Cos. “Today is a great day for us to drop this legislation,” McCaskill said. “At home, we are all very nervous about the offer made by InBev for Anheuser-Busch.”

She said the InBev situation is an example of why foreign clients should operate in “complete sunshine. By making these changes … we will make sure that no one is operating in the shadows on behalf of foreign companies, foreign governments or for dictators.”

The Democratic Senators said their bill was also timely given recent news reports about a lobbying firm, Davis Manafort, with connections to the Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Rick Davis, a top McCain campaign aide now on leave from the firm he helped found, reportedly lobbied a U.S. official overseas on behalf of a Ukrainian politician.

But Schumer said the lobby bill came about independent of any campaign news and instead was spurred by reports of Iraqis lobbying U.S. officials. “I’d welcome Sen. McCain to co-sponsor this legislation,” he said.