Two GOP lawmakers look to crack down on foreign lobbying

Published: Nov. 27, 2017 at 3:20 PM EST

President Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is facing a slew of charges, including failing to register as a foreign agent.

Now two GOP lawmakers have a bill they say can address problems with these federal lobbying rules. But one legal expert sees issues with this bill.

"If some foreign country is operating in the United States, hiring people to represent them, we ought to know who they are and what they’re doing," said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

Grassley has a bill to reform the way lobbying works in Washington, D.C. He's pushing for more reporting requirements for lobbyists who work on behalf of foreign interests and for more resources for the federal government.

It's an issue he says he has spent some time researching in his role as Senate Judiciary Chair, but there's now more of a discussion surrounding the matter in light of recent headline news stories.

"That law is inadequate and that’s why we have the legislation in to bring about greater enforcement, compliance and oversight," said Grassley.

GOP Congressman Mike Johnson, of Louisiana, says updating the Foreign Agents Registration Act is critical to transparency.

"It’s something that should be on every America’s radar screen and by doing this, and passing this legislation, we’re going to help the President drain the swamp," said Johnson.

Recently, political lobbying firms - on both sides of the aisle - have faced scrutiny for the way they operate. While one legal expert agrees with the notion of updating the law, he says this bill is flawed.

"It is potentially helpful in allowing the Department of Justice to investigate noncompliance…it doesn’t address the major problem, which is the ambiguity," said Joe Sandler of Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock, P.C.

Sandler, an expert in this area of law and a former attorney for the Democratic National Committee, says the Grassley-Johnson bill is overly broad and in some respects, leaves the law murky.

He also suggests lawmakers consider making some violations a civil penalty, not just criminal.

"This can be an occasion for bipartisan reform efforts," said Sandler.

The bill is currently sitting in House and Senate panels.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act has been law for nearly 80 years. Grassley says only a handful of violators have been convicted.