Foreign Influence Explorer
Foreign Influence Explorer documents some of the ways foreign entities influence policy and opinions in the United States. The foreign influence data housed here comes from documents collected by the Department of Justice as required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act. View information about Foreign Agent Feed and Proposed Arms Sales below.
The DOJ describes FARA as, "a disclosure statute that requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities."
The data is made up of records that report a variety of activity by individuals or organizations representing foreign interests in the U.S. For example, some of the records report cases of lobbyists advocating for foreign governments. Others might detail public relations campaigns for travel and trade associations or what appears to be more mundane occurrences such as individuals seeking visas.
Clicking on a form in the Foreign Agent Feed takes you to a document profile that lists all the clients represented by a registrant. Registrants are generally the companies or individuals who represent foreign interests and they are responsible for filing the forms with the DOJ. Sometimes registrants represent themselves. As new forms are processed, client lists can change.
If a form has been processed, and the form deals with the information Sunlight tracks, a downloadable file will be created. The zip file will contain spreadsheets with any information dealing with whom the registrant contacts in the United States, the registrant's political contributions, payments made to the registrant and disbursements made on behalf of the client.
Documents in the Proposed Arms Sales Feed are press releases from The Defense Security Cooperation Agency. It's important to note that the sales mentioned in this feed are only proposed sales and may not happen.
This resource is particularly useful to reporters and informed citizens. People can discover issues that are up for negotiation and reference FARA records to see what kind of influence may be a factor in these decisions.
Clicking on a title will take you to a preview of a press release and a link to download the original document from the DSCA.
The Foreign Military Sales program according to the DSCA:
The Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program is a form of security assistance authorized by the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) and a fundamental tool of U.S. foreign policy.
Under Section 3, of the AECA, the U.S. may sell defense articles and services to foreign countries and international organizations when the president formally finds that to do so will strengthen the security of the U.S. and promote world peace.
Under the FMS the US Government and a foreign government enter into a government-to-government sales agreement. The international agreement is called a Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA).
The foreign influence database accessed via the Sunlight Foundation's Influence Explorer is updated both by hand and via automatic document feeds from the Department of Justice and other federal agencies on a regular basis. As soon as the data is structured we update the website and make the data available for download. Downloads are updated daily. It should be noted, however, that not all documents submitted to the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act have been processed by us. Currently, users of our site can access all of the records submitted in 2013. A portion of the documents submitted in 2011 and 2012 have been processed by us and are available on our site. We are working hard to standardize and make available for browsing and download as many documents as we can. Information is available if you would like to learn how to contribute to this project.
Archival data from ForeignLobbying.org, the previous iteration of this project, is available on this site for download and searching. ForeignLobbying.org was a partnership between the Sunlight Foundation and ProPublica. The data range for this data is 2008-2011.
Please contact us with issues or feedback.
Supplemental- This document provides exceptionally detailed information about what individuals or companies do for their foreign clients. This could include contacting a member of Congress, a federal official or a member of the media. It also could involve producing a conference, press releases or placing op-eds. Supplemental forms also contain key information such as who registrants have contacted in the United States, payments to registrants from clients, political contributions and disbursements that are used to pay for expenses and activities. These forms are filed every six months. In one year, registrants will file two supplementals with the DOJ.
Registration- This form is filed by new registrants. It includes much of the same key information that the Supplemental forms do: payments to registrants, political contributions and disbursements for expenses and activities.
AB- The AB forms are two forms that a registrant must file when it acquires new clients. They include information about the client and describe the work that the registrant expects to do. They also include a copy of the agreement.
Amendment- This document contains corrections or changes to other forms.
Other document types include Short Form Registrations for individuals representing foreign agents, Fundraising Forms and Articles of Incorporation. While you can search these forms on our site, the information from these forms aren't incorporated into Sunlight's database. For more information about FARA forms go the FARA website.
How it works:
The data in the Foreign Influence database comes from the Department of Justice's website. We selectively gather only the documents we're interested in using software written solely for this purpose. We structure and standardize the selected data by hand. The data is then entered into our database by a team of Sunlight employees, interns and volunteers. To ease fact-checking, we also insert a link to the original form on the DOJ's website for each hand-entered line item. The end product of this process helps users uncover influential relationships between U.S. policy makers and foreign entities.
Foreign Agents Registration Act Guide
This data is a hand-entered, structured and normalized version of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) files found in PDF format at http://www.fara.gov/. You can use Excel or any spreadsheet reader to access them, making it possible to easily search and analyze the information in ways that the PDF format precludes.
Below is a brief description of the information included in the spreadsheets and a few key definitions to help you navigate the files.
The "Foreign Agent" also called, the "Registrant", is the individual or organization enlisted to represent a foreign interest in the United States. These individuals or entities are sometimes, but not always, lobbyists. They can also be public relations firms, tourism organizations or business associations, among other things.
The "Client" is the foreign interest being represented. Sometimes foreign entities can represent themselves. In those cases the client and the lobbyist are the same entity in the data.
Most dates are directly transcribed from FARA documents. In some instances we have to add or manipulate dates for the sake of uniformity in our database. For instance, if no date was given for a line item within a supplemental filing, we assign the end date of the six-month filing period during which it was submitted to the DOJ. Line items like that are identified with an asterisk. For line items that provide a month but not day, we assign the first day of the month to the item as the date. Finally, if a line item is reported with a date range instead of a single date, we assign the first date of the range to the item.
Only a fraction of line items within filings are reported in a way that requires us to have to change the date. A clue to whether we did have to alter the date for display is if the line item is shown to have been reported on the first of the month. If the exact date is important to your research, you should access the source documents using the links provided on the site.
This data contains descriptions of people and entities contacted by registrants in the data, press releases on behalf of foreign clients, meetings between foreign actors and people in the United States, conferences, speeches and other activity reported in the FARA forms.
This information is among the most valuable information that can be obtained via the FARA because it identifies parties involved on both sides of meetings. And unlike lobbyists who represent domestic clients, representatives of foreign clients must name lawmakers, staff members and even journalists whom they met with on behalf of their clients.
Though foreign donations are barred from federal elections, U.S. citizens and organizations that represent foreign interests in the U.S. may still contribute to candidates and campaigns. Therefore any registrant with foreign clients that makes political contributions in the U.S. must report those campaign contributions to the Department of Justice according to FARA. This is in addition to disclosure requirements set forth by the Federal Election Commission.
Note: Contribution amounts will likely NOT match records available at the Federal Election Commission, or those housed by the Sunlight Foundation's Influence Explorer and on OpenSecrets.org. Differences in reporting requirements between the FEC and the DOJ account for differences in amounts reported as well as different contribution dates.
Again, FARA proves to be more reliable than the same information for domestic clients: Identifying political givers who might also be lobbyists and aggregating their giving over time requires difficult name matching and entity resolution processes. The reporting requirements for FARA documents eliminate that problem for situations that involve foreign clients. This attribute is key because it allow users to easily and reliably determine if registrants in the FARA database make campaign contributions to the same political offices that they are contacting on behalf of a foreign client—a common practice highlighted by this data.
These numbers tell you how much a foreign government or other entity has paid the firms or individuals representing it in the United States. The client field represents a payment from the client. (In rare cases, other entities foot the bill for services.)
Disbursements describe the amounts expended by registrants in connection with activity on behalf of clients.