Oct 17, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: DOJ demands Hikvision lobbyists register as foreign agents

Hikvision camera

Hikvision camera in front of the Oriental Pearl Radio & Television Tower in Shanghai, China Photo: Wang Gang/VCG via Getty Images

The Justice Department has required lobbyists for Hikvision, a leading Chinese surveillance equipment company, to register as foreign agents, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The move comes amid a broader federal crackdown on Chinese industries deemed potential U.S. national security threats. The push is now reaching D.C. representatives for the world's largest manufacturer of video surveillance equipment.

Driving the news: Hikvision's top lobbying firm, Sidley Austin, registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act last week for its work on the company's behalf.

  • It did so "solely in response to a request from [DOJ's] FARA Unit," the firm told Axios in a statement.
  • "Sidley began representing Hikvision in June 2018 and filed regular quarterly reports with Congress making all required disclosures," the firm said, referring to filings under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, which is generally reserved for lobbying on behalf of domestic and foreign commercial clients.
  • Its FARA registration will require Sidley to disclose more information about its work on Hikvision's behalf and its compensation from the company going forward.

Between the lines: Sidley has helped Hikvision try to ward off aggressive attempts by Congress and federal agencies to limit its products' use domestically.

  • A Pentagon funding bill in 2019 banned federal agencies from using Hikvision products, citing national security risks.
  • Last year, President Biden signed an order barring new U.S. investment in the company.

Hikvision denies complicity in human rights abuses and says it is not controlled by the Chinese government.

  • It is also fighting new rules from the Federal Communications Commission that could severely limit its U.S. business.

As the Biden administration has ramped up regulatory scrutiny on Chinese companies, Hikvision has beefed up its Democratic lobbying muscle.

  • In May, days after news of potential new sanctions broke, the company enlisted Drew Willison of the firm Elevation Association, the former chief of staff for the late Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid.
  • Willison registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act rather than FARA. He did not respond to inquiries about whether he would follow Sidley's lead.
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