Since the 2016 Presidential campaign, the influence of ‘foreign bodies’ within the U.S. political system has been in the spotlight like never before, and the indictment of Paul Manafort and Richard Gates this week is only set to further fuel speculation in the coming weeks. The pair stand accused of hiding their work, and money received, from former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. While the law requires anyone that carries out ‘political activities’ for a foreign government or party to disclose this to the Justice Department, enforcement has been lax. Between 1966 and 2015 the Department of Justice bought just seven criminal FARA cases. Failure to properly enforce the law has led shadow lobbying, most notably on behalf of foreign governments, to become one of Washington’s worst kept secrets. But with such a high-profile indictment case, foreign lobbyists will feel the heat as prosecutors seek to dig deeper into the issue.
Bloomberg reported that the current Foreign Agent Registration Act database lists a total of 211 “foreign principals” from Russia that have hired the services of U.S. lobbying, public relations and law firms to represent them. Records also show “78 from Ukraine, 54 from Georgia, 44 from Azerbaijan, 34 from Kazakhstan and 19 from Uzbekistan” in what Bloomberg describes as the “avalanche” of post-Soviet cash that has hit Washington in the last two decades.
Manafort and Gates made more than $75 million working for Yanukovych and his Party of Regions “between ‘at least 2006 and 2015.’ Yanukovych is often called a pro-Russian leader, and while he tried to steer a middle course for Ukraine between ties to Russia and the European Union, his personal sympathies were with the like-minded regime of Vladimir Putin.” Tony Podesta’s the Podesta Group was also linked to Yanukovych, referred to as “Company B” in the indictment.