Tracking the efforts of foreign countries and organizations to lobby the U.S. government became easier this week. The Justice Department launched a searchable online database of filings under the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) - including reports filed during the current month.[..]
"It is about time that the Department of Justice step up to the plate and carry out its mandate," said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen, which has long pushed for wider access to the FARA database. "This is the original intent of FARA . . . if we just opened up the book for everyone to see, we would be able to derail any mischief that foreign governments may be up to."
The Sunlight Foundation has an obvious interest in this kind of information being made available, so they started experimenting to see what kind of results they would get.
The site offers its search results in spread sheet form (very useful for making databases), but when Anupama tried to download the entries for her Afghanistan search (the first country listed), she only got twenty of the twenty-four results. When I searched for China, I got 204 results, which seemed like a low number to me, but they all seemed to download fine into the spread sheet. The site should also offer a macro download, making it easy to get the entire database to one's desktop. RSS feeds making interested folks aware of new filings would be nice too.
FARA is soliciting feedback on the site -- the email address is embedded in a link on this page -- so give the site a whirl and FARA some feedback. I know I'm going to.
I know from some detail-vague bios that Fred Thompson spent some time as a lobbyist for a registered foreign agent. Hmm...I wonder if there are more specifics in that database.