Feb 27, 2022 - Politics & Policy

How Russian efforts to influence D.C. took off in recent years

Russian spending on U.S. foreign influence
Data: OpenSecrets; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Reported Russian spending on its influence efforts in the United States skyrocketed during the years before its invasion of Ukraine last week, records show.

Why it matters: The numbers show the growth and scale of a lobbying-and-propaganda apparatus now crumbling under the weight of U.S. sanctions and intense internal pressure to punish Russian aggression.

By the numbers: Russia shot up the list of top spenders on U.S. influence efforts largely due to Justice Department demands that its state-run media organs register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

  • In 2014, FARA-registered firms representing Russian interests got less than $800,000 for that work, according to OpenSecrets data.
  • By 2019, that number had increased 5,774%, to more than $45 million, before scaling back to $35 million last year.
  • In 2016, Russia was just the 73rd-largest spender on U.S. foreign influence. It was the third-largest in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Be smart: Those numbers only account for a portion of the country's influence efforts, which also include lobbying by Russian companies on ostensibly apolitical commercial matters.

  • A trio of U.S. firms, for instance, pulled in millions lobbying for the embattled Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. But that spending was reported through standard domestic disclosure channels, rather than FARA.

Go deeper: The latest on the Russian invasion of Ukraine

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