AP News has revealed that a Washington lobbying outfit, the Podesta group, retroactively submitted a filing to the Department of Justice for work performed from 2012-2014 for a Brussels-based nonprofit with alleged links to the Ukrainian government, headed at the time by the now-deposed Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Russian political party.
This is one of several retroactive filings to garner attention recently. In March, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn registered after the fact for prior work he had conducted which may have benefited the Turkish government. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has just announced that he will now register work undertaken for Yanukovych’s regime with the DoJ.
The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) are supposed to ensure that any activities which may benefit foreign nationals or governments are properly disclosed to the U.S. authorities. A previous article by the Kleptocracy Initiative and infographic on what each law entails, and how they differ, can be found here.
Retroactive filings, while strictly speaking a felony, are usually tolerated in the belief that a late filing—even months after the fact—is better than no filing at all. However, this stipulation is ripe for abuse and undermines the very purpose of FARA and LDA.
The DoJ has proposed an amendment to its FARA legislation that will require the filings be submitted in an online federal registry, which will streamline the submission process and make entries more searchable for compliance and law enforcement purposes. Despite this positive step, the fact that lobbyists can register months or even years after the fact undermines any deterrence provided by the felony penalty in the legislation. Meanwhile, work that should be disclosed to the U.S. government and American people can continue to proceed behind closed doors.
Natalie Duffy is a Research Associate at Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative.