Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) of 1938 is one of the first attempts in the U.S. at comprehensive lobbying reform. FARA’s primary purpose was to limit the influence of foreign agents and propaganda on American public policy.
The Foreign Agents Registration Act codified at 22 USCS § 611-§ 621 requires every agent of a foreign principal to file a registration statement with the Attorney General of the United States, that copies of informational materials for or in the interests of such principal disseminated by such agent through the U.S. mails, or by any means of interstate or foreign commerce, be filed with the Attorney General, and that books of account and other records be kept as to all activities as to which disclosure is required under the provisions of the Act. Violations of the Act are punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both. Conspiracy to violate the Act is also made an offense.
FARA was amended several times in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The most significant amendment came in 1966, when Congress changed the primary focus of FARA from an anti-propagandist tool into an instrument of regulation over grassroots lobbying as well as lobbying of Congress by foreign agents. Although the original purpose of the Act was to protect the internal security of the U.S. in the face of subversive and propagandist activities by enemy agents in the period before the outbreak of World War II, today the foreign agent has become principally the promoter of a nation's economic interests, that is, a lobbyist. Amendments to the statute in subsequent years have attempted to reflect this change in the role of the foreign agent.