New Research: Foreign Influence in U.S. Politics


CONTACT: Jessica Rosenblum, [email protected], 202.800.4662

WASHINGTON, DC – Despite intense media and political speculation about China’s foreign influence operations in the United States, China spends next to no money on traditional lobbying or campaign activities, according to a research brief released today. While China spent more money on FARA registrants ($418M since 2016) than any other country, the vast majority of that funding has gone to two China state-run media outlets with negligible audiences in the U.S.

This fact and others like it are drawn from a new research brief, “Foreign Lobbying in the U.S.” The brief offers the first deep dive into newly available tranche of Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) data, which was recently made publicly available for the first time in a database of all foreign registrants’ political activities and campaign contributions. The authors’– Quincy Institute’s Director for Democratizing Foreign Policy Ben Freeman and Junior Research Fellow Nick Cleveland-Stout – research reveals a complex web of foreign influence operations.

“The result [of this FARA reform] is a major leap forward in transparency that will make the data in FARA filings more accessible than ever before, and provide the public with an unprecedented understanding of how the agents of foreign actors are attempting to influence U.S. public opinion and U.S. public policy every single day,” Freeman and Cleveland-Stout write.

In 2022 and 2023, $14.3 million in political contributions and nearly 130,000 political activities were reported by FARA registrants. Concerningly, affluent authoritarian regimes represent a majority of the most active countries — including Saudi Arabia and UAE, which had the most and fourth most political activities respectively under FARA from 2022-2023.

The brief illustrates the standard playbook of foreign influence operations: outside countries use firms based in Washington to lobby active members of Congress in pursuit of various aims — such as receiving U.S. weapons, currying American favor in regional conflicts, and more general reputation laundering.  

They detail numerous examples of firms operating in such a manner, such as Brownstein’s lobbying on behalf of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and the Egyptian government, as well as Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Field, LLP representing the UAE to the tune of $881 million between 1998 and 2023. 

While the authors praise these newfound FARA reforms, they also put forth several recommendations to create further transparency. They suggest that FARA registrants should be required to report a unique identifier for each office contacted, making it easier to more clearly determine lobbyists’ contacts. They also recommend legislation that would introduce civil fines on the underreporting of political activities, accompanied by protections against the abuse of the FARA process.