Many Coloradoans regularly do business with foreign entities or foreign governments themselves. Few consider themselves foreign agents. However, what’s important is whether the U.S. Government considers you a foreign agent.
There’s a lot of confusion around that term. It’s not nearly as exciting as it sounds, and it doesn’t necessarily refer to someone who’s doing something nefarious or illegal. However, it requires proper disclosure. Failure to do that can land you in prison and facing hefty fines. That’s why you need to know about the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
What is FARA?
The purpose of this federal law is to protect the U.S. from “covert foreign influence.” It requires those “working on behalf of foreign governments or other foreign principals (including Americans) to disclose their relationships to foreign principals and information about their activities.” A foreign principal could be a business, government, political party, nongovernmental organization (NGO) or individual.
It’s not necessarily illegal for a foreign government or other entity to try to influence U.S. policies, legislation and public opinion via Americans working for or with them. However, everyone needs to be transparent about their relationships.
Many businesspeople, former U.S. officials and politicians, philanthropists, lobbyists and others do this kind of work. However, they need to register as foreign agents with the FARA Unit of the U.S. Department of Justice within 10 days of accepting the job and before they begin their work. Intentionally failing to do so is a federal offense.
How do you know if you’re a foreign agent?
Your best course of action if you’re not certain whether you need to register or not is to check directly with the FARA Unit. Don’t just rely on anything your employer or anyone else you’re working with tells you. People who believe they’ve come into contact with an unregistered foreign agent are supposed to report them to the FARA Unit or the FBI. You want to be on the right side of this law. If you find yourself facing criminal charges, you need legal guidance.