WASHINGTON — InterAction, the largest alliance of U.S. nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in every developing country in the world, released an open letter to Congress sharing concerns regarding proposed reforms to the Foreign Agent Registration Act of 1938 in response to Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.
While nonprofits are supportive of efforts to preserve democracy and transparency, it is our hope that any reforms also update the terms and definitions of the current law. Any increased enforcement without updating the terms of a “Foreign Agent” or “Foreign Principal” could preclude NGO access or independence and put NGO staff working in development and humanitarian sectors in jeopardy, especially in fragile and conflict regions countries if they are forced to register as a foreign agent in the United States. Furthermore, repressive regimes will use any U.S. law as an excuse to restrict their own local civil society. U.S. law should not be a model or justification for attacks against democracy, rights, and governance.
“In 1938, NGOs, global philanthropists, and civil society leaders weren’t recognized as principals on the global stage as they are today,” said Sam Worthington, CEO of InterAction. “We ask members of Congress to modernize the law in a way that encourages people to help each other while stopping those who seek harm.”