US legal positions differ from PNCR’s ruling out compliance with Foreign Agents Registration Act

Last Updated on Tuesday, 4 June 2024, 17:43 by Writer

The People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) has ruled out the need for its party groups and individual members in the United States (US) to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) because they do not seek to influence the American government or public, although legal experts in the US believe otherwise.

“The defining activity has to do with the criterion large or small, high or low if targeted at influencing US domestic law or policy,” Party Public Relations Director, Sherwood Lowe told Demerara Waves Online News. He said those activities could vary from targeting US congressional members, donations to political parties on American soil or propaganda work.

He also said that FARA does not prohibit party groups in the US from taking instructions or directions from the party. “No, FARA does not prevent that. That’s a big misconception,” said Mr Lowe. He is a geologist by profession rather than a lawyer and does not reside in the US.

The US law firm, Caplin and Drysdale, in dealing with FARA compliance produced several opinions which include one that states that a US individual serving as an 0fficer and political party advisor for a foreign political party who engaged in the following activities within the United States: “provided counsel and follow-up to the foreign political party regarding invitations sent to Members of the U.S. Congress” to attend an event; “drafted two resolutions … the subject of which would be of political interest to the United States as well as the foreign region, “accompanied” a foreign political party official “to attend congressional meetings and other events in Washington, D.C.”; and organized briefings, formulated talking points, and provided “logistical assistance.” amounted to “political activities and acted as a “political consultant” for the foreign political party and so he should be registered with FARA. Another opinion states that a US individual who communicated with several US government officials and agencies to recommend “as friendly to the interests of the United States” a foreign individual who was campaigning as a candidate at the time to be President of a foreign country also needed to register with FARA.

The US Department of Justice, for its part, defines a “foreign political party” as one that includes any organization or any other combination of individuals in a country other than the US, or any unit or branch thereof, having for an aim or purpose, or which is engaged in any activity devoted in whole or in part to, the establishment, administration, control, or acquisition of administration or control, of a government of a foreign country or a subdivision thereof, or the furtherance or influencing of the political or public interests, policies, or relations of a government of a foreign country or a subdivision.”

Mr Lowe, however, personally believed that PNCR groups should be registered in light of concerns raised in certain quarters that the groups and members need to comply with FARA. “Given that this matter has come now in the limelight, my personal view is that we may have to play it safe and consider registering,” he said.

Mr Lowe said the PNCR groups’ “low-level work” in the US are “outward” looking and are “essentially charity work” among the Guyanese Diaspora. “Every Diaspora group in America does that: put some stuff in barrels, send home to their church, to their political party, to their community group or send home $10,000, $5,000,” he said. But, another of Caplin and Drysdale’s opinions was that a US organization was “formed to provide strategic support” to a foreign political party and conducted fundraising, educational, and recruitment activities to benefit the party in the United States. The FARA Unit concluded that the US organization was required to register under FARA because it conducted “political activities” and raised funds for the foreign political party.

The US Justice Department also described an agent of a foreign principal as someone within the United States who solicits, collects, disburses, or dispenses contributions, loans, money, or other things of value for or in the interest of such foreign principal.

Mr Lowe reasoned that the holding of PNCR town hall meetings in the US are not attempting to influence US law and policy. “We don’t do that. We don’t even come close,” he said. In his estimation, FARA targets “big massive powerful lobby” groups like those that are pro-Jewish, pro-Israel, Russia and Ukraine.

According to the party spokesman, the PNCR’s groups do not influence political and other decision-makers by lobbying about concerns in Guyana. “Our party groups do not do that. They are essentially what every diaspora group does. They raise funds, they gather material up and they send home,” he said.

Even if a group member at a town hall meeting in the US calls on the American government to address alleged racial discrimination, alleged narco-trafficking or corruption, in Guyana, the PNCR official maintained that there could be no such violation in the first instance because “our groups do not do that.” Apart from party groups, Mr Lowe could not vouch for group members but noted that if someone, exercising his or her right as a US citizen engages in such activities, he said that would be different from what groups do. “Those members are US citizens so they can go and do individual things on their own, as US citizens, but not under the umbrella of PNCR groups. They don’t do that,” he said.

The Justice Department says an agent of a foreign principal means any person who acts as an agent, representative, employee, or servant, or any person who acts in any other capacity at the order, request, or under the direction or control, of a foreign principal or of a person any of whose activities are directly or indirectly supervised, directed, controlled, financed, or subsidized in whole or in major part by a foreign principal, and who directly or through any other person engages within the United States in political activities for or in the interests of such foreign principal; acts within the United States as a public relations counsel, publicity agent, information-service employee or political consultant for or in the interests of such foreign principal; within the United States represents the interests of such foreign principal before any agency or official of the Government of the United States.

After the North American Region Inc (NAR) had refused to accept the PNCR’s Central Executive Committee’s directive to re-admit a party group in Queens, New York and to make Derrick Lawrence its representative to the CEC, the party then de-recognised NAR Inc and decided to establish the PNCR USA Group with him as the head of the steering committee.

The Justice Department further defines agent of a foreign principal as “any person who agrees, consents, assumes or purports to act as, or who is or holds himself out to be, whether or not pursuant to contractual relationship, an agent of a foreign principal as defined in clause (1) of his subsection.”

Mr Lawrence is on record as saying that he intends to comply with US law.

NAR Inc had also said that neither itself nor Mr Lawrence could take directives or instructions from the PNCR’s CEC or General Council unless registered with FARA.