Researching Foreign Lobbying Activity

In an increasingly interconnected world, there is a premium on understanding how foreign governments and businesses work to influence U.S. policy and public opinion.Whether your interest is in learning which foreign companies are competing for U.S. contracts, which foreign governments are lobbying for new trade agreements, which countries are running ad campaigns to attract American tourists, or even find out which regimes are hiring public relations firms to defend their human rights records in the American media—there are a couple key tools available to help you figure it all out.

The Department of Justice's Foreign Agent Registration Office provides a searchable online database of records disclosed under the Foreign Agent Registration Act.These records are typically filed by lobbyists, public relations firms and ad agencies which have been hired by foreign governments, political parties, businesses or other organizations seeking to influence U.S. public opinion, policy or laws.From this website, you can search for a particular foreign interest, or all filings from a country, as well as by individual lobbyist or firm to find out all their foreign clients.From these records, you can learn details about what issues were lobbied on, how much was spent to retain a firm, and it is even possible to view a copy of the contract itself, which can provide good insight into the scope and strategy of a lobbying or public relations campaign.

For example, this 2002 contract between the government of Zimbabwe and a consulting firm describes how the firm planned to lobby the U.S. government to accept the results of an upcoming election as legitimate:

Alternatively, federal lobbying activity done on behalf of foreign businesses or organizations (but not foreign documents or political parties) is instead required to be filed under the rules of the Lobbying Disclosure Act. These filings can also be searched online, through the Senate Office of Public Records database. Searches can be performed by client, country or lobbyist, and provide information about the issues, legislation and branches of government lobbied. This database is also useful for learning about the lobbying activities of domestic clients.

For example this 2006 filing describes a lobbying firm’s work on behalf of Dubai Ports World to allow it to purchase several U.S. ports, including which legislation it lobbied on and which government agencies it contacted:

To learn more about the rules and history of the Foreign Agent Registration Act, see this Department of Justice guide. Additionally, this Attorney General's report provides interesting summary and statistics about registered foreign agents.