The Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) is a 1938 anti-propaganda law. It has historically been rarely enforced, but there is new interest in the Act amidst concern about foreign influence in U.S. politics. Over a dozen bills have been introduced in the U.S. Congress to ramp up enforcement of or expand the Act.

This eighty-year-old law though is so broad and vaguely worded that if enforcement was strengthened it would have an adverse effect on U.S. civil society. This page provides information on how FARA impacts nonprofits and the media.

For a short primer on how FARA can adversely affect nonprofits see either: 

For a short primer on how FARA can adversely affect the media see: 

For a short primer on how FARA has been used to justify “foreign agent” laws in other countries see:

Congressional Activity


Open Letter to Congress Concerning Foreign Agents Registration Act (2018) Signed by 46 humanitarian and development organizations expressing concern over ramping up enforcement of FARA without better targeting the Act. See also, accompanying FAQ to the open letter.

FARA-Related Legislation

Introduced Legislation

Bills or provisions introduced by the current Congress:

HR 1 (Sarbanes); HR 867 (Castro); HR 1467 (Omar); HR 1566 (Jayapal); S 480 (Rubio)/ HR 1811 (Smith); HR 1522 (Gallagher); HR 1612 (Fitzpatrick); S 949 (Udall); S 987 (Coons); S 1762 (Grassley)

Passed Legislation

Bills or provisions already enacted into law:

115th Congress: HR 5515 (Thornberry): Creating new disclosure requirements for foreign-based media outlets

Previously Introduced Legislation

Bills or provisions introduced by previous sessions of Congress:

115th Congress: House Bill 4170 (Johnson), Senate Bill 2482 (Feinstein/Cornyn), Senate Bill 2039 (Grassley), Senate Bill 625 (Shaheen/Young), Senate Bill 1679 (Duckworth), HR 585 (DeFazio), HR 2811 (Cicilline), HR 5354 (Moultan), Senate Bill 2583 (Rubio), HR 5336 (Wilson), HR 6010 (Smith), HR 6248(Kaptur), Senate Bill 3274 (Bennet), and HR 6533 (Sarbanes).

House Natural Resources Committee Investigation of Environmental Nonprofits

In 2018, as part of an investigation into foreign influence of U.S. environmental nonprofits, the Chairman of the House Natural Resources and the Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee sent letters to prominent U.S. environmental organizations alleging they may need to register as “foreign agents” under FARA:

Letter to Earthjustice (Oct. 1, 2018)

Letter to World Resources Institute (Sept. 5, 2018)

Letter to Center for Biological Diversity (June 20, 2018)

Letter to NRDC (June 5, 2018) (and here) (July 16, 2018)

Eliza Newlin Carney, FARA Fiasco: Congress Swings at Manafort, Hits Environmentalists, American Prospect, Sept. 20, 2018
Dino Grandoni, Republicans want to know if environmental groups are really foreign agents, Washington Post, Sept. 6, 2018
Timothy Cama, Republicans target green groups over foreign ties, The Hill, June 27, 2018
Evan Halper, Is that environmental group a pawn of Beijing? Nonprofits wary of being branded ‘foreign agents’, LA Times, June 14, 2018
Andy Segedin, House Seeks Explanation on NRDC, China Connection, Nonprofit Times, June 7, 2018

Letters from Members of Congress to Justice Department

Letter from Sen. Rubio to Justice Department to investigate former Secretary of State John Kerry (Sept. 18, 2018)

Letter from 18 House members and 1 Senator requesting Justice Department investigate Al Jazeera (March 6, 2018)

Letter from 7 U.S. Senators requesting Justice Department investigate Chinese media organizations (Jan. 16, 2018)


Justice Department FARA Enforcement

Letter from Justice Department to RT TV America requesting that they register under FARA. (Aug. 17, 2017)

John Bowden, DOJ orders two Chinese state-run media organizations to register as foreign agents, The Hill, Sept. 18, 2018

Other Resources

"Foreign Agents” in an Interconnected World: FARA and the Weaponization of Transparency (2019): ICNL working paper by Nick Robinson.

The Danger of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) to Civil Society in the United States and Abroad (2018): A two-page ICNL briefer on the potential negative effects on non-profits of increasing enforcement of FARA and proposed fixes.

The Unintended “Foreign Agents” (March 2018): ¬†An article by Nick Robinson and Doug Rutzen in Just Security on the adverse effect of FARA on nonprofits.

FARA’s Double Life Abroad (2017): A short ICNL report on how FARA has been used to justify restrictive “foreign agent” in other countries.  

Aid Barriers and the Rise of Philanthropic Protectionism (2015): An article by Doug Rutzen in the International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law on the rise of restrictions on foreign funding in nations around the world. The Department of Justice’s website on FARA. It includes the Act itself, regulations, and FAQs among other information. 


ICNL’s work on FARA is part of its U.S. initiative

For more information contact: Nick Robinson at




Foreign Agents Registration Act