Frequently Asked Questions

I. BACKGROUND

II. DEFINITIONS 

III. COMPLIANCE QUESTIONS

IV. EXEMPTIONS

V. REGISTRATION

VI. BOOKS AND RECORDS

VII. SEARCHING FARA RECORDS

VIII. INFORMATIONAL MATERIALS


 

I. BACKGROUND

What is FARA?

FARA is an acronym for the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, as amended, 22 U.S.C. § 611 et seq. (“FARA” or “the Act”).  FARA requires the registration of, and disclosures by, an “agent of a foreign principal” who, either directly or through another person, within the United States (1) engages in “political activities” on behalf of a foreign principal; (2) acts as a foreign principal’s public relations counsel, publicity agent, information-service employee, or political consultant; (3) solicits, collects, disburses, or dispenses contributions, loans, money, or other things of value for or in the interest of a foreign principal; or (4) represents the interests of the foreign principal before any agency or official of the U.S. government.  In addition, FARA requires agents to conspicuously label “informational materials” transmitted in the United States for or in the interest of a foreign principal.  There are some exemptions to FARA’s registration and labeling requirements for specified categories of agents and activities.

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What is the purpose of FARA?

FARA is an important tool to identify foreign influence in the United States and address threats to national security.  The central purpose of FARA is to promote transparency with respect to foreign influence within the United States by ensuring that the United States government and the public know the source of certain information from foreign agents intended to influence American public opinion, policy, and laws, thereby facilitating informed evaluation of that information.  FARA fosters transparency by requiring that persons who engage in specified activities within the United States on behalf of a foreign principal register with and disclose those activities to the Department of Justice.  The Department of Justice is required to make such information publicly available. 

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What is the FARA Registration Unit (“FARA Unit”)?

The FARA Unit is part of the National Security Division of the Department of Justice, and is responsible for administering and enforcing FARA.  The FARA Unit provides support, guidance, and assistance to registrants and potential registrants and processes registration filings and informational materials to make those materials available to the public.  The FARA Unit also identifies FARA violations, reviews filings for deficiencies, and inspects registrants’ books and records.  The FARA Unit makes registration information and disclosures available to the public to inform the public about the activities of foreign agents within the United States.

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What are the penalties for violating FARA?

The penalty for a willful violation of FARA is imprisonment for not more than five years, a fine of up to $250,000, or both.  Certain violations are considered misdemeanors, with penalties of imprisonment of not more than six months, a fine of not more than $5,000, or both.  There are also civil enforcement provisions that empower the Attorney General to seek an injunction requiring registration under FARA (for applicable activities) or correcting a deficient registration statement.

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What should I do if I or someone else might have a registration obligation under FARA?

If you believe an individual or entity may have an obligation to register, please contact the FARA Unit:

  • By E-mailfara.public@usdoj.gov
  • By Phone: (202) 233-0776/0777
  • By Correspondence
    FARA Unit, National Security Division
    U.S. Department of Justice
    175 N Street, NE
    Constitution Square, Building 3 - Room 1.300
    Washington, DC  20002
     

Because investigations are confidential, the FARA Unit cannot provide updates on submissions it has received.

 

II. DEFINITIONS

What is an “agent of a foreign principal”?

An “agent of a foreign principal” is any person who acts as an agent, representative, employee, or servant, or otherwise acts at the order, request, or under the direction or control of a “foreign principal” and does any of the following:

  • Engages within the United States in political activities, such as intending to influence any U.S. Government official or the American public regarding U.S. domestic or foreign policy or the political or public interests of a foreign government or foreign political party.  
      
  • Acts within the United States as a public relations counsel, publicity agent, information service employee, or political consultant. 
      
  • Solicits, collects, disburses, or dispenses contributions, loans, money, or other things of value within the United States.
      
  • Represents within the United States the interests of a foreign principal before U.S. Government officials or agencies.
     

See 22 U.S.C. § 611(c); 28 C.F.R. § 5.100.

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What is a “foreign principal”?

A “foreign principal” can be a foreign government, a foreign political party, any person outside the United States (except U.S. citizens who are domiciled within the United States), and any entity organized under the laws of a foreign country or having its principal place of business in a foreign country.  It can also include a foreign faction or body of insurgents whose legitimacy the United States government has yet to recognize.

See 22 U.S.C. § 611(b); 28 C.F.R. § 5.100.

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III. COMPLIANCE QUESTIONS

What if I have a question about FARA?

You should first review the FARA website for answers or guidance.  In addition to these FAQs, the website includes the FARA statute and associated regulations and selected advisory opinions addressing FARA-related questions.

If you have an administrative or logistical question, please contact the FARA Unit by phone at (202) 233-0776 or email at fara.public@usdoj.gov.  If you have a question as to whether any contemplated activities, agreements, receipt of money, or other transaction would trigger an obligation to register under FARA, you may submit a request for an Advisory Opinion. See 28 C.F.R. § 5.2. 

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How do I obtain an Advisory Opinion from the FARA Unit?

A request for an Advisory Opinion must be made in writing to the FARA Unit.  The subject of the request must be an actual event, not a hypothetical situation, and may not involve only past conduct.  Any request must be specific and contain in detail all relevant and material information, including the names of the potential agents and principals, the nature of their activities, and a copy of any existing or proposed contract.  Advisory Opinion requests may only be submitted by an actual party to the proposed activities, or the party’s attorney; a fee of $96.00 is required.  See 28 C.F.R. § 5.2(b), (c), and (d); 28 C.F.R. § 5.5(d)(8).

If the requester is an individual, the request must be signed by the prospective or current agent. If the requester is not an individual, the request must be signed on behalf of each requesting party by an officer, a director, a person performing the functions of an officer or a director of, or an attorney for, the requesting party.

Each person signing the request must certify that it contains a true, correct and complete disclosure with respect to the proposed conduct. See 28 C.F.R. § 5.2(f)

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How long should I expect to wait for an Advisory Opinion?

The FARA Unit seeks to respond to requests for Advisory Opinions within 30 days after it has received the request and any requested additional information.  See 28 C.F.R. § 5.2(i)

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Will my incoming request for an Advisory Opinion become public?

No. Pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 5.2(m), written materials submitted pursuant to a request for an advisory opinion are treated as confidential and not released.

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Are Advisory Opinions available to the public?

Yes.  The FARA Unit has begun posting Advisory Opinions on the FARA website.  Such published opinions are anonymized and redact information identifying the parties.  Advisory Opinions issued since January 1, 2010, are now posted on the FARA website, and future Opinions will be as well, as they issue. Please note that these opinions, and the guidance they provide, are based on the specific information submitted to the FARA Unit by the requester and may or may not govern a different situation. 

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What is a Letter of Inquiry?

The FARA Unit may send a Letter of Inquiry to an entity or person if the FARA Unit obtains credible indications that a registration obligation may exist.  The letter will notify the entity or person of the possible registration obligation and may seek additional information to inform the Unit’s view whether a registration obligation exists.  

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What do I do if I receive a Letter of Inquiry?

If you receive a Letter of Inquiry, you should cooperate with the FARA Unit and respond to its requests.  If you do not believe you are required to register, or are uncertain, you may provide the FARA Unit with any additional information you believe will assist in informing the FARA Unit’s determination whether an obligation exists.

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IV. EXEMPTIONS

Are there exemptions to the obligation to register?

Yes.  An agent of a foreign principal may be exempt from FARA’s registration obligations if the agent’s activities fall within one of the following exemptions:

  • Diplomatic officers and diplomatic staff
  • Certain registered foreign officials who are not U.S. citizens and are not public-relations counsels, publicity agents, or information-service employees
  • Bona fide commercial activity and other activity not serving predominantly a foreign interest
  • Humanitarian fundraising
  • Religious, scholastic, academic, fine arts, or scientific pursuits
  • Certain activities relating to the defense of foreign governments vital to the United States defense
  • Legal representation of a disclosed foreign principal before any court or law or agency of the United States government
  • Properly registered parties under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (in no case where a foreign government or a foreign political party is the principal beneficiary will this exemption be recognized)

See 22 U.S.C. § 613; 28 C.F.R. §§ 5.300-5.307.

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Do I need to contact the FARA Unit to qualify for an exemption?

It is the responsibility of a person or entity potentially subject to FARA to determine whether FARA applies to its activities or whether the activities are exempt from registration under FARA.  But a party may wish to submit a request for an Advisory Opinion pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 5.2 to inquire as to whether the activities are exempt from registration requirements under FARA. 

The burden of establishing the availability of an exemption rests upon the party claiming it.  See 28 C.F.R. § 5.300.

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What is the diplomatic exemption?

A party may qualify for the diplomatic exemption if the party is a duly accredited diplomatic or consular officer of a foreign government that is recognized by the U.S. Department of State, while the officer is engaged exclusively in activities that are recognized by the U.S. Department of State as being within the scope of the functions of such officer.  See 22 U.S.C. §§ 613(a)-(c); 28 C.F.R. §§ 5.301-5.302

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What is the commercial exemption?

The “commercial” exemption addresses activities undertaken on behalf of foreign principals that are private and nonpolitical activities in furtherance of the bona fide trade or commerce of such foreign principal or not serving predominantly a foreign interest.  Such activities on behalf of a state-owned enterprise may qualify for this exemption.  However, the exemption will not apply if such activities are directed by a foreign government or political party, or they directly promote the public or political interests of the foreign government or political party.

See 22 U.S.C. § 613(d); 28 C.F.R. § 5.304.

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What is the religious, scholastic, academic, scientific or fine arts exemption?

The exemption for activities in furtherance of “bona fide religious, scholastic, academic, or scientific pursuits, or of the fine arts” is not available where the person or entity engages in political activities for or in the interests of his foreign principal.  The activities must be limited to only those mentioned for the exemption.  22 U.S.C. § 613(e); 28 C.F.R. § 5.304.

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What is the exemption pertaining to foreign governments that are vital to the defense of the United States?

This exemption applies to activities taken on behalf of a foreign government “the defense of which the President deems vital to the defense of the United States.” 22 U.S.C. § 613(f).  There are currently no foreign governments so designated. 

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What is the exemption for legal representation?

In general, legal services, including advocacy, provided to a disclosed foreign principal in connection with a judicial or administrative proceeding before a court or agency of the United States government are exempt from FARA.  Additionally, legal advice provided to a foreign principal in connection with such proceeding or generally with respect to the interpretation of the law, or the application of the law to the foreign principal, is likewise exempt from registration. 

However, legal services and advocacy whose aim is to attempt to influence or persuade any U.S. Government official or agency employee with respect to formulating, adopting, or changing the domestic or foreign policies of the United States or with reference to the political or public interests, policies, or relations of a government of a foreign country or foreign political party, do not qualify for the exemption, and registration would be required. 

See 22 U.S.C. § 613(g); 28 C.F.R. § 5.306.

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What is the exemption for registration under the Lobbying Disclosure Act?

The Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 (“LDA”), 2 U.S.C. § 1601 et seq., is administered by Congress, and applies to a class of agents, generally representing commercial, non-governmental entities who are engaged in “lobbying activities” as that term is defined in the LDA.  There is an exemption from registration under FARA for those agents who have properly registered under the LDA.  In general, the LDA exemption applies to those who lobby Congress and/or certain high-level executive branch officials on behalf of the covered entities.   

An agent who is properly registered under the LDA is exempt from registration under FARA, if (i) the agent has engaged in lobbying activities and (ii) the representation is not on behalf of a foreign government or foreign political party.  The exemption does not apply where a foreign government or a foreign political party is the principal beneficiary of the activities. See 22 U.S.C. § 613(h); 28 C.F.R. § 5.307.

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V. REGISTRATION

When is registration due?

FARA mandates that you must register before acting as an agent of a foreign principal.  Under Section 612(a) of FARA, parties must file a registration statement within 10 days of having agreed to act as an agent of a foreign principal.  A party may not begin to act as an agent of a foreign principal before registering.  See 22 U.S.C. § 612(a).

A registration statement will not be deemed to have been filed unless it is accompanied by the applicable fee.  See 28 C.F.R. § 5.5(h).

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Will the FARA Unit review a draft registration statement before filing?

No.  The FARA Unit does not accept draft submissions and will not review statements submitted in draft form.  If a party submits a registration statement that contains errors, needs to be amended, or is otherwise deficient, the FARA Unit may notify the party submitting the statement of such issues and provide an opportunity to cure.  However, it is the obligation of the submitting party to file a truthful and complete registration statement.  By accepting a registration statement, supplement, or other document for filing, the FARA Unit makes no representation or endorsement of the truth or accuracy of its contents.

It is a felony to willfully make a false statement of a material fact, willfully omit any material fact required to be stated therein, or willfully omit a material fact or a copy of a material document necessary to make the statements therein and the copies of documents furnished therewith not misleading.   See 22 U.S.C. § 618(a).

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How is registration effected?

Registration is accomplished through the FARA eFile portal on the FARA website. The eFile online registration and payment instructions are available at https://www.justice.gov/nsd-fara/fara-efile-frequently-asked-questions

A $305.00 filing fee is required for each foreign principal.  See 28 C.F.R. §5.5(d)(1).

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What forms are needed for a first time registration?

Each registrant must complete the following forms, available at https://www.justice.gov/nsd-fara/fara-forms:

  • Registration Statement
  • Exhibit A, describing the foreign principal
  • Exhibit B, describing the nature and terms of the agreement
  • Exhibit C, articles of incorporation, association, bylaws or partnership agreement
  • Short Form Registration Statements (forms for individuals). If the registrant is filing a primary registration as an individual, he or she does not need to file a short form.
  • Exhibit D if the agent receives, or collects money or other things of value as part of a fundraising campaign

See 22 U.S.C. § 612(b); 28 C.F.R. § 5.200–§ 5.202

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How often must a registrant supplement or update its initial registration?

Registrants must file supplemental statements at six-month intervals following the date of the registrant’s initial registration.  The supplemental statement, and its corresponding filing fee of $305.00 for each foreign principal, is due 30 days after the six-month reporting end date.  See 22 U.S.C. § 612(b); 28 C.F.R. § 5.203.

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Does the FARA Unit notify registrants when supplemental statements are due to be filed?

The FARA Unit sends an invoice during the month before the date the supplemental statement is due to be filed, serving as a reminder that the statement is due to be filed.  However, the invoice is only a reminder – the obligation for filing timely registration statements and supplements rests on the registrant, whether or not the registrant receives an invoice.  See 22 U.S.C § 612(a) and (b); 28 C.F.R. § 5.203.

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Can I obtain an extension for filing a supplemental statement? 

FARA requires the timely filing of supplemental statements.  In limited cases, the FARA Unit may grant an extension to an applicant’s filing of a supplemental statement following receipt of a written request outlining good cause for granting the extension.  See 28 C.F.R. § 5.203(c).  Such extension requests must be received before the required filing date.

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Who must file a short form registration statement?

Every partner, officer, director, associate, employee, and agent of a registrant who acts in furtherance of the interests of the foreign principal is required to file a short form registration statement.  A person engaged solely in clerical, administrative, or similar duties is not required to file a short form registration statement.

Any change affecting the information furnished or the compensation he/she receives shall require the filing of a new short form registration statement within 10 days after the occurrence of such change.  There is no requirement to file exhibits or statements to a short form registration statement.

It is also necessary to file an updated short form registration statement each time an agent acquires a new foreign principal.

See 28 C.F.R. § 5.202.

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What should I do if my registration is late?

Agents who do not file a registration when the obligation arises should register as soon as possible and contact the FARA Unit indicating the reason for the delinquency. 

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Are there consequences for late filings?

Yes.  Late filings may be considered a deficiency in registration, in which case a party could be prohibited from acting as an agent of a foreign principal pursuant to 22 U.S.C. § 618(g).  The Department of Justice could also seek an injunction to order compliance with FARA pursuant to 22 U.S.C. § 618(f), or pursue criminal charges pursuant to 22 U.S.C. § 618(a), if the failure to file is willful.

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How do I comply with a letter asking for an amendment to my registration?

Download the Amendment to Registration Statement at https://www.justice.gov/nsd-fara/fara-forms.  Using the latest version of Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Acrobat Reader, provide the requested information or documentation.  Electronically sign the Amendment to Registration Statement, and eFile at https://www.justice.gov/nsd-fara/fara-efile.

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How do I terminate a registration?

If a registered agent wants to terminate a registration, the agent must file with the FARA Unit, within 30 days after the end of the agency relationship, a final statement on the supplemental statement form for the final period of the agency relationship.  The registrant should submit the statement through the FARA eFile portal located on the FARA website, https://www.fara.gov.  The registration will be terminated when the agent has fully discharged its obligations under FARA.

It is the responsibility of the registrant to notify the FARA Unit when it wants to terminate its registration.  Failure to do so could result in the registration becoming delinquent.

See 28 C.F.R. § 5.205.

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Does the filing of a registration statement ensure compliance?

The fact that a registration statement or supplement has been filed with the FARA Unit does not mean that there is full compliance with FARA, nor is it an indication that the Department of Justice has assessed the merits of the filing. The Department of Justice must still review the filing to ensure that it is not deficient.  Filing will also not preclude prosecution for an earlier willful failure to file or for a false statement or omission of a material fact. 

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VI. BOOKS AND RECORDS

What records should I maintain as a registered foreign agent?

Every registrant is required to keep and preserve all materials with respect to those activities whose disclosure is required under FARA.  The registrant should maintain comprehensive and accurate records related to all foreign principal clients necessary to properly and fully provide the information required in the registration statement, supplemental statements, and other registration materials.

The books and records must be kept and preserved in such manner as to render them readily accessible for inspection.  Registrants are required to preserve such records for a period of three (3) years following termination of their registration.  See 22 U.S.C. § 615; 28 C.F.R. § 5.205. 

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What is an inspection?

FARA authorizes the Department of Justice to inspect registrants’ books and records in order to better understand the activities conducted on behalf of foreign principals and validate their filings.  Inspections are a tool used by the FARA Unit to assist in determining compliance under FARA.  Officials of the National Security Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation may inspect the books and records of registered agents.  See 28 C.F.R. § 5.501.

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What records must I provide to the FARA Unit during an inspection?

In accordance with 22 U.S.C. § 615, a registrant shall keep and preserve the following books and records:

  • All correspondence, memoranda, and other written communications to and from all foreign principals and all other persons, relating to the registrant’s activities on behalf of, or in the interest of any of his foreign principals.
  • Original copies of all written contracts between the registrant and any of his foreign principals.
  • Records containing the names and addresses of persons to whom informational materials have been transmitted.
  • All bookkeeping and other financial records relating to the registrant’s activities on behalf of any of his foreign principals, including canceled checks, bank statements, and records of income and disbursements, showing names and addresses of all persons who paid moneys to, or received moneys from, the registrant, the specific amounts so paid or received, and the date on which each item was paid or received.
  • If the registrant is a corporation, partnership, association, or other combination of individuals, all of the registrant’s minute books.
  • Such books or records as will disclose the names and addresses of all employees and agents of the registrant, including persons no longer acting as such employees or agents.
  • Such other books, records, and documents as are necessary properly to reflect the activities for which registration is required.

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How long must I keep my records?

While acting as agent of a foreign principal, a registrant must maintain all required records.  Under certain circumstances, a registrant may receive permission from the National Security Division to dispose of records that are five or more years old.  See 28 C.F.R. § 5.500(d).

A registrant must also keep and preserve copies of all records related to its FARA registration for three (3) years following termination of registration, in accordance with 22 U.S.C. § 615.

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VII. SEARCHING FARA RECORDS

How do I determine if someone is, or has been, registered?

The public may determine if an entity is, or has been, registered by using FARA’s Browse Filings search tool on the FARA website, https://www.fara.gov/.

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Does the FARA Unit have a public research or reading room for researchers?

The FARA Unit maintains a public office, open for research from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM, Monday through Friday, except for government holidays.  The Unit provides customer service support and technical assistance on how to register through FARA eFile.  The public office is located at 175 N Street, NE, Room 1.204, Washington, DC 20002.

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Can the FARA Unit alert me to new registrations?

There is no option to set up alerts for newly-filed FARA registrations.  The public is encouraged to use the Search Filings and Browse Filings tools available on the FARA website, https://www.fara.gov/  to search FARA filings.

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Is the FARA database searchable?

Yes. The FARA online database, found at https://www.fara.gov/, is searchable using FARA’s two online search tools; Search Filings and Browse Filings.  These work quickly to return specific registration filings and extensive and varied FARA registration information and statistics useful to researchers.  

Search Filings:  https://efile.fara.gov/search

This tool provides for browsing and searching of registration documents by field (e.g. Document Type, Registration Number, Registrant Name, Stamped/Received Date).  It also supports a full-text search of available documents (PDF format), as well as allows additional data to be accessed in either bulk download format (e.g. CSV, XML) or via machine-readable API endpoints (e.g. CSV, XML, JSON).

Browse Filings: https://efile.fara.gov/browse

This tool provides for searching active and historical information by registrant, short form registrant and foreign principal.

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VIII. INFORMATIONAL MATERIALS

What are informational materials?

Informational materials are items, in both physical and electronic form, that an agent disseminates in interstate commerce on behalf of the foreign principal.  Informational materials must contain the sort of labeling that Section 614(b) of FARA requires.  The appropriate labeling is known as the “conspicuous statement.”

Section 614(a) of FARA requires agents to file all informational materials with the FARA Unit regardless of means of dissemination.

See 22 U.S.C § 614; 28 C.F.R. § 5.400 and 5.402.

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Does FARA limit an agent’s right to publish informational materials for a foreign principal?

No.  FARA does not limit or regulate the content of speech or messaging. 

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What should the conspicuous statement say?

The following language must be included in the conspicuous statement in order to comply with 22 U.S.C. § 614 (b):

This material is distributed by (name of registrant) on behalf of (name of foreign principal).  Additional information is available at the Department of Justice, Washington, DC.  

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What are the general requirements for filing informational materials?

In accordance with 22 U.S.C. § 614(a), an agent must file informational materials with the FARA Unit, within 48 hours of transmittal. 

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How do I file informational materials with the FARA Unit?

Informational materials in the form of prints and any other format reasonably adapted to print should be filed electronically by uploading the informational materials through FARA eFile. 

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How do I file informational materials that are not reasonably adapted to print?

Informational materials that are not reasonably adapted to print, such as broadcasts and videos, may be filed with the FARA Unit utilizing electronic media, such CDs, DVDs, or thumb drives. 

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How do I file copies of social media?

Informational materials in the form of social media posts may be filed using the FARA eFile portal as PDFs.

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How do I label radio broadcasts?

Informational materials that are broadcast shall be audibly introduced with a recitation of the required conspicuous statement. See 28 C.F.R. § 5.402(d). 

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How do I file copies of radio broadcasts?

Informational materials in the form of television or radio broadcasts, videos, audios, and the like shall be filed utilizing electronic media, such CDs, DVDs, or thumb drives with the FARA Unit, on a monthly basis.  

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How do I label television, film, video, web-based broadcasts?

Informational materials in the form of television, film, video, or web-based broadcasts shall be introduced by the required conspicuous statement.  The statement should appear as a chyron or other visual means and should remain visible for a period of time reasonably adapted to ensure that it can be read.  See 28 C.F.R. § 5.402(d).

Informational materials disseminated by still or motion picture film must contain the conspicuous statement at the beginning of such film.  See 28 C.F.R. § 5.402(e). 

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How do I file television, film, video, web-based broadcasts?

Informational materials in the form of television, film, video, or web-based broadcasts, shall be filed on a DVD and delivered to the FARA Unit on a monthly basis. 

Unless specifically directed to do so by the Assistant Attorney General, a registrant is not required to file a copy of a motion picture, so long as he files monthly reports on its dissemination. In each case the registrant shall submit to the FARA Unit evidence showing the required label or submit an affidavit certifying that the required label has been made a part of the film.  See 28 C.F.R. § 5.400(c). 

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Does registration affect the content of the material I prepare and/or disseminate?

Registration under FARA does not affect the content of any material, including broadcasts or publications that emanate from a foreign source.  Upon registration, the foreign source and the agent may continue producing, broadcasting and otherwise disseminating the content of their choosing, provided that the material disseminated, including any broadcast, is accompanied by a requisite disclosure statement.  See 28 C.F.R. § 5.402(d); see also 22 U.S.C. § 614(b). 

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Updated April 14, 2020

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