US/EU Lobby Against Georgian Law That Would Reveal Their Secret Influence

by | Apr 19, 2024

The government of Georgia has tried for some time to implement a law “On transparency of foreign influence”. Its aim is to publicly identify organizations and parties who receive a significant amount of their budget from abroad:

The draft law “In order to ensure transparency”, initiated for the second time by the Georgian Dream faction, envisages the registration of such non-entrepreneurial (non-commercial) legal entities and media outlets, whose income – more than 20% – is received from abroad as an organization carrying out the interests of a foreign power. According to the project, everyone who is considered an “organization carrying the interests of a foreign power” must be registered in the public register under the same name in a mandatory manner. At the time of registration, it will be necessary to reflect the received income. At the same time, the organizations will have the obligation to fill in the financial declaration every year.

Those organization who currently receive money from the various U.S. or EU government or non-government organizations are of course not amused that they will have to reveal their association with such sources. They want to lobby for foreign positions without being identified as foreign influencers.

They have therefore launched protests against their country’s government and parliament which has passed the law in the first reading. Two further readings will be required to finalize the law.

The protesters against the law claim that it is a “Russian law” against “foreign agents”.

Since 2012 Russia does have a law that is somewhat similar to what Georgia is attempting to implement but such type of laws are certainly not a Russian intervention:

Supporters of the [Russian version of the] law have likened it to similar legislation in the US that requires lobbyists employed by foreign governments to reveal their financing.

The U.S. equivalent to the Russian and Georgian law is of course the much older Foreign Agents Registration Act:

The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) (22 U.S.C. § 611 et seq.) is a United States law that imposes public disclosure obligations on persons representing foreign interests. It requires “foreign agents”—defined as individuals or entities engaged in domestic lobbying or advocacy for foreign governments, organizations, or persons (“foreign principals”)—to register with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and disclose their relationship, activities, and related financial compensation.

FARA was enacted in 1938 primarily to counter Nazi propaganda, with an initial focus on criminal prosecution of subversive activities; since 1966, enforcement has shifted mostly to civil penalties and voluntary compliance.

For most of its existence, FARA was relatively obscure and rarely invoked; since 2017, the law has been enforced with far greater regularity and intensity, particularly against officials connected to the Trump administration. Subsequent high-profile indictments and convictions under FARA have prompted greater public, political, and legal scrutiny, including calls for reform.

FARA is administered and enforced by the FARA Unit of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section (CES) within the DOJ’s National Security Division (NSD). Since 2016, there has been a 30 percent increase in registrations; as of November 2022, there were over 500 active foreign agents registered with the FARA Unit.

The Washington Post, without mentioning the long standing FARA law which is at least as strict as the new Georgian one, falsely insists that the original idea of the new Georgian law is indeed Russian:

Georgia pushes Russian-style ‘foreign agent’ law, putting E.U. bid at risk

Georgia’s Parliament voted Wednesday to advance deeply contentious legislation aimed at cracking down on “foreign agents” — an echo of a similar law in Russia that has been used to crush political dissent.

In Georgia, the bill has sparked huge street protests and drawn condemnation, including from President Salome Zourabichvili, who is not a member of the Georgian Dream political party, which controls Parliament and the government.

Zourabichvili and other critics say the bill is itself an instrument of foreign interference — backed by Russia and intended to undermine Georgia’s bid to join the European Union.

On Tuesday evening, as some protesters clashed with police in the streets of the capital, Tbilisi, Zourabichvili said the bill was evidence of Russian meddling.

However neither is the law “Russian style” – it is a copy of FARA – nor does the law include the loaded word “agent”. It does not accuse anyone of being such but seeks public transparency over foreign financial influences which would of course also include Russian ones.

The protests against the law look like an attempt of a typical color revolution:

17 Apr 23:15 – “Let’s demand that the Prime Minister talks to us” – rally participants moved towards the government administration

After Levan Tsutskiridze, co-founder of the “European Platform of Georgia” group, announced the plan of action, demonstrators headed towards the government chancellery and demanded a meeting with the Prime Minister. Tsutskiridze proposed demanding that the government repeal the law and release those detained the day before. Police and security forces are strengthening their cordon near the chancellery building.

At 21:30 rally participants presented an ultimatum to the authorities demanding the repeal of the law and gave them one hour to make this statement.

Attempts to storm or blockade government buildings have been pushed back. The government is holding firm. It has a solid majority in parliament and can outvote a potential presidential veto.

Every Georgian decision maker has the Ukrainian “Maidan revolution” in mind during which the opposition used snipers (allegedly from Georgia!) shot at police as well as protesters.

We can be sure that the Georgian government is aware and well prepared for such an escalation.

The law is likely to pass. Soon thereafter a majority of the organizations which currently organize the street protests against the law will have to admit that they are the foreign paid influencers the law is aimed at to reveal their dubious interests. 

Reprinted with permission from Moon of Alabama.