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This is a guest post by David Frulla, Jeff Hunter, and Scott McGee of Kelley Drye & WarrenDavid Frulla is a Partner at Kelley Drye & Warren in Washington, DC and practices in the areas of government relations and public policy, campaign finance and political law, litigation, and environmental law. Jeff Hunter is a Partner and focuses on federal and state campaign finance, lobbying disclosure, and ethics rule compliance. Scott McGee is a government relations and public policy advisor and focuses his practice on monitoring and lobbying legislative issues on behalf of clients as well as developing political strategies.

Since 1938, Congress has required extensive foreign agent disclosure through the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). FARA disclosure is significantly broader than what the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) requires. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) administers FARA directly and requires no interagency referral to investigate violations. 

In 2007, Congress amended FARA to require electronic registration and periodic reporting. Just last month, the DOJ issued a notice announcing a new online filing system for FARA disclosure. According to a subsequent press release

“The revamped FARA eFile system will streamline the registration process and improve searching and analysis of FARA filings. The new process is self-guided, provides instructions and definitions, and automatically pre-populates data in subsequent filings. Importantly, eFile will help ensure all required fields are completed and responses are standardized, which will promote transparency and efficiency.” 

The DOJ is also working to strengthen the website database search tool to facilitate more sophisticated searches deeper into registrants’ filings. Previously, registrants prepared the various filings offline and uploaded them as PDFs.  

The DOJ posted eFile FAQs and “Instructions for New Registrants” to help users get started with the new online system. However, the new system can take some getting used to, whether one is a new user or an old pro. Overall, the eFile system has a question/answer web-based format, similar to online tax software. Answer the questions and the online form populates a form for signature and filing. This is especially helpful when it comes to common information repeated across forms — Name, Address, etc. — enter it once and the system populates it across the various registration forms (Registration Statement, Exhibits A and B, and Short Form Statements). The form saves your information automatically; so if your browser crashes or you accidentally close it, all the information should still be there once you log back into the eFile system.

You will still need to upload scanned/PDF copies of supporting documents when the system asks for it, such as contracts and organizational documents.  The system restricts file size to 4 GB and will not accept password-protected files. A final note for new FARA registrants: 

  • New registrants will need to sign blank signature templates for the various forms and upload PDF copies to the eFile system. E-signatures are no longer allowed.

  • Part of the FARA registration process requires disclosure of political contributions.  Users have the option to enter the information on the web-based form, or as comma-separated value (CSV) files for data import

Overall, like any web-based form software, once you’ve gone through it the first time (or maybe a few more tries), this eFile system is fairly easy to use. But it has a downside for repeat filers or for firms with multiple foreign principals: you no longer can adapt a prior filing for efficient turn-around. Someone must manually enter the information each time. We will see how this new eFile system works for semiannual reports. The DOJ anticipates transitioning all registrants to the new eFile for Supplemental Statements in roughly the next six to twelve months.