While the Kremlin is forcing overseas-funded NGOs to register as “foreign agents” in an attempt to undermine entirely legitimate, transparent and locally-driven civil society programs, Eurasia’s post-Communist states have proven adept at using GONGOs and similar fronts to exert influence in the United States, reports suggest.
“A range of post-communist governments, in particular, with money to burn and no particular love of transparency” are exploiting an “increasingly popular loophole in the federal law intended to regulate foreign activity,” allowing them “to follow the minimal disclosure practices required of domestic corporate lobbies, not the extensive ones demanded of registered foreign agents,” writes Buzzfeed’s Rosie Gray:
The trick is this: Any entity controlled and funded by a foreign government is formally required to be registered as a foreign principal. But as long as the entity is formally a nongovernmental organization and isn’t funded by a government — a chamber of commerce, an advocacy group, or some other entity — the law does not apply…..
“For better or for worse, it’s legal,” said Joseph Sandler, a Democratic lawyer and expert on FARA law.
The erosion of those requirements began around the fall of the Soviet Union, says Bill Allison, editorial directorial of the Sunlight Foundation, a lobbying watchdog group.
“One of the problems with the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 is it weakened the requirements for foreign entities and gave an awful lot of them the ability to register under the LDA when they should be filing under FARA [the Foreign Agent Registration Act],” he said.
FARA established extremely detailed disclosure requirements, which have recently shed light on everything from Georgian lobbyists’ hors d’ouevres to a stealth Malaysian campaign to plant propaganda articles in American media outlets.
A case in point, writes Gray, is an organization variously called the Fund Forum or Forum of Culture and Arts of Uzbekistan Foundation, which is run by Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbekistan’s dictator Islam Karimov.
“It’s a philanthropic organization that allegedly does a few genuinely good things, it’s allegedly a front for some of Gulnara’s shady business dealings, and most of all, it’s ground zero for Gulnara PR, a way that she can promote herself as a ‘philanthropist’ and gain a following among Uzbekistan’s youth,” said Sarah Kendzior, a Central Asia expert.