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How High-Powered Lobbying and PR Firms Launder Influence for Foreign Governments

POGO – “When foreign governments need help navigating the DC swamp, there’s a whole host of high-powered DC lobbying and well-connected public relations firms eager to help them—for a hefty fee. Lax enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act or FARA, a law designed to shed light on when foreign actors are trying to sway U.S. policymakers and public opinion, can make that influence difficult to trace. Adding to the challenge is that foreign influence can be funneled through proxies. Just as money is laundered through foreign bank accounts and dummy corporations, foreign influence is being laundered—often through U.S. firms and intermediaries that use tactics like targeting experts and placing op-eds without disclosing that they’re peddling propaganda for a foreign power. A prime example garnered widespread news coverage last fall after former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and his longtime business partner Richard Gates were hit with a grand jury indictment. The government alleges the pair violated FARA during the decade they worked on behalf of a since-deposed Ukrainian President with ties to the Russian government. The charges emerged out of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The pair pleaded not guilty. But according to the indictment, they went to great lengths to obscure who was pulling the strings in their work for the Ukrainian politician, Viktor Yanukovych, and his party—including using a “front” nonprofit called The European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, or ECFMU. That group was then used to hire two major DC fixer firms to promote Yanukovych’s agenda in Washington, the government alleges. The firms, widely reported to be Mercury LLC and the Podesta Group, are now facing scrutiny for their own apparent lack of compliance with FARA. New reporting by POGO has also uncovered apparent oversights in retroactive FARA paperwork filed by Mercury last year. Yet they are far from alone. There have been a number of high-profile cases where U.S. firms working through intermediaries have been accused of running afoul of FARA…”

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