WASHINGTON (TND) — Researchers from the Quincy Institute found that at least 90 former members of Congress have registered as foreign agents under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) since 2000.
The list of former lawmakers turned foreign agents covers nearly half of all countries in the world, and the trend is getting stronger, according to the Quincy Institute’s Nick Cleveland-Stout and Ben Freeman.
“Year in and year out, it’s the same story of former elected officials selling their connections and knowledge of how to make things happen (or not happen) in Washington to high-paying special interests,” the two researchers write in their report. “While this lobbying is often done on behalf of American interests — like big pharmaceutical, banking, or weapons firms — former lawmakers have been lobbying on behalf of foreign interests more and more often in recent years.”
Turkey had the most former members of Congress lobbying for them with 16, followed by South Korea with 12, Taiwan with 11 and China and Saudi Arabia with eight each.
Among that list, China has spent more on FARA registrants since 2016 than any other country, according to OpenSecrets.
Four of the eight lawmakers China has put on its payroll have lobbied for a state-owned company that makes surveillance equipment used to monitor the repressed Uighur population in China, while another has done lobbying work for a partially state-owned artificial intelligence company, write Stout and Freeman.
Lobbyists registered with Saudi Arabia have spent time working to repair the nation’s image after the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, they added. In one instance, a former California representative turned Saudi lobbyist named Howard “Buck” McKeon repeated talking points nearly word-for-word provided to him by another one of the Saudi Kingdom’s lobbyists during a debate on the House floor regarding the future of the war in Yemen, the two researchers chronicled in their report.
Turkey, which holds the largest number of U.S. FARA agents, has used its lobbyists to aid its efforts to influence U.S. policy, extradite dissidents, drum up opposition to militia groups in Syria and persuade the U.S. away from recognizing the Armenian genocide, according to Stout and Freeman.
“Regardless of regime type, only foreign interests with the resources to dish out millions of dollars are able to hire former members of Congress, thus creating an unequal playing field where the wealthiest foreign interests exert an outsized influence on the U.S. foreign policy process,” the researchers pointed out. “The risks posed by such wealthy authoritarian regimes as those most likely to have former members lobbying on their behalf are compounded by the fact that all of these former lawmakers had access to classified information and some of our nation’s most sensitive secrets. Information about overseas military deployments or operations, domestic terrorism threats, or other key intelligence in the hands of hostile foreign actors could pose serious risks to U.S. national security.”
While there are no records of FARA agents divulging classified information to foreign interests, in 2012, a former member of Congress was sentenced for obstruction of justice and violating FARA. The prosecution resulted from work the former Michigan Representative Mark Siljander did on behalf of an organization with ties to international terrorism and Osama bin Laden, according to Stout and Freeman.
Current members of Congress have reportedly become attuned to the potential threats of former members of Congress lobbying on behalf of foreign agents. Earlier this month, bipartisan legislation called the “Fighting Foreign Influence Act” was introduced, which would, among other provisions, ban former members of Congress and other senior level government officials from lobbying for foreign governments and entities.