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Sources to Search: The OpenSecrets FARA Full-text Search

The Foreign Agents Registration Act (or as it’s commonly known, FARA) requires that those representing foreign governments and foreign interests file detailed reports with the Department of Justice outlining what exactly they are doing on behalf of their clients.

FARA registrations have been the source of lots of important stories in recent months – ranging from Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s run-ins with the law and his failures to register, to registrations by USTR Robert Lighthizer on behalf of Chinese and Brazilian state-owned industries that slowed down his confirmation.

But while the registrations can be a goldmine of useful intelligence about the influence industry in Washington, the searching functionality of the database is severely limited – mostly to the actual registrants themselves.

So, if you were researching the activities of a lobbyist (or an unregistered one) and they were a principal registered on the documents, they’d be easy to find. But if their activities were deeper in the filings as part of the firm’s broader work, it’d be a lot harder to sort out – you may have to go through all of the firm’s filings to find it.

Now, thanks to the Center for Responsive Politics (the folks behind OpenSecrets), there’s a full-text searchable archive of FARA registrations. The archive uses DocumentCloud, a nifty utility maintained by Investigative Reporters and Editors that OCR’s the documents, converting them into searchable text. And their advanced search capability allows for some other searches (i.e. date limits) that otherwise aren’t possible.

The search really shines in identifying activities that firms reported by their employees (on behalf of the contract) that aren’t listed as registrants. It’s also a great tool for digging into the lobbying activities themselves, with registrants often reporting all of their contacts with various lawmakers and their staffs. That’s a goldmine for linking lobbying contacts to votes and more, and for anyone seeking to dig into and better understand the lobbying industry itself.


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