The act requires people and organizations that are under foreign control ("agents of a foreign principal") to register with the Department of Justice when acting on behalf of foreign interests. This law defines the agent of a foreign principal as someone who: Engages in political activities for or in the interests of a foreign principal; Acts in a public relations capacity for a foreign principal; Solicits or dispenses any thing of value within the United States for a foreign principal; Represents the interests of a foreign principal before any agency or official of the U.S. government.
The Department of Justice has found that most violations of this law are unintentional and is attempting to work out problems without legal action.
Although the act was designed to broadly apply to any foreign agent (and was first used against German Nazi and Soviet propagandists), in practice FARA is frequently used to target countries out of favor with an administration (such as Venezuela or Iraq during the George W. Bush administration).
In the 1960s, the American Zionist Council was found to be engaged in massive violations of FARA by being funded by and acting on behalf of Israel and was ordered by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to register as a foreign agent. The DOJ reversed those enforcement efforts under pressure from both the Israel lobby and the Johnson administration during its reelection bid. Controversy regarding lobbying on behalf of Israel continued after the American Zionist Council was reorganized as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), with former Senator William Fulbright and former senior CIA official Victor Marchetti calling for registering the lobby. The issue was renewed in 2004 by the AIPAC espionage scandal.
AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations are not registered at the USDOJ (and therefore not available in the USDOJ's FARA database)