Nov 23, 2021 - Politics & Policy

First look: Targeting foreign cash behind congressional testimony

Illustration of the Capitol building open with money coming out.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New legislation would force policy experts who testify before Congress to disclose any foreign government funding for nonprofits employing them, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Existing rules provide a measure of disclosure, but Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) says loopholes have allowed congressional witnesses to routinely sidestep the requirements, potentially obscuring foreign funding behind expert testimony used to shape U.S. law. The law could affect numerous experts from think tanks.

  • Many such organizations already disclose foreign funding on their own websites. The legislation would nonetheless spotlight that funding ahead of congressional testimony.
  • For others, it could force new information into the public domain about financial links to foreign governments, or individuals in countries the U.S. considers global adversaries.
  • Banks, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, is seeking Democratic cosponsors for the legislation, a spokesperson told Axios.

What's happening: Banks' legislation, the Truth in Testimony Reform Resolution, would dramatically expand foreign funding disclosure requirements for witnesses at congressional hearings.

  • All House witnesses would be required to list foreign government donors to think tanks and research outfits employing them, whether they are testifying in an individual capacity or as representatives of those organizations.
  • They also would have to list funding from foreign political parties and state-owned entities.
  • The legislation would expand the disclosure requirement to include all such funding, not just funding for work on the specific policy areas at issue in their testimony.

In a statement, Banks' office focused on Chinese influence, pointing to recent reporting about donations by Communist Party-linked trade groups to U.S. think tanks.

  • The resolution would impose substantial new disclosure requirements on people with financial or business links to Chinese nationals, as well as entities in other adversarial foreign governments.
  • If the bill passed, House witnesses would need to note any paid advisory or consulting agreement with any entity — private or governmental — based in China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela or Cuba.

What they're saying: “Congress works best when all the cards are face up on the table," Banks told Axios in an emailed statement.

  • "It's past time we expose malign foreign influence and take the masks off individuals who testify before Congress while taking money from foreign countries."

The big picture: In January, a day after the new Congress was sworn in, House Democrats announced new, more stringent truth-in-testimony requirements for congressional witnesses.

  • Multiple witnesses since then have sidestepped the requirements by claiming they were testifying in a personal capacity, and not on behalf of foreign-funded organizations employing them.
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