Prominent nonprofit and advocacy groups are complaining to the Justice Department they could be branded "foreign agents" unless DOJ changes its approach to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), Axios reports. Such diverse groups as the Koch network's Americans for Prosperity, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the American Civil Liberties Union filed comments on possible changes to FARA regulations. Foreign governments provide funding to scores of prominent nonprofits, some of which have been scrutinized for influence exerted by those foreign patrons. Some groups are warning DOJ that overzealous enforcement of foreign agent laws could chill free speech and politicize transparency laws.
Think-tank funding has long been seen as a tool for foreign governments to influence U.S. policy and public opinion. In 2020, DOJ released an advisory opinion spelling out conditions under which nonprofits that receive foreign government funding must register as foreign agents. The National Wildlife Federation was forced to register under a grant it received from the Norwegian government. DOJ is soliciting comments from stakeholders and the public on new FARA regulations, and nonprofits and their representatives are warning of dire consequences for American charities and advocacy groups. At least eight comments highlighted FARA's applicability to nonprofits and asked DOJ to modify or clarify its approach. "Being labeled as a foreign agent under FARA would put our neutrality and independence in jeopardy," wrote the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.