WASHINGTON — Eighty years ago, Congress became so alarmed by the rise of pro-Nazi propaganda in the United States that it passed the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), a law intended to shine a light on the activities and money spent by foreign countries and their representatives to lobby the U.S. government and spread their messages on American soil.

For large stretches of its existence, FARA has been an afterthought — a “stop sign in the desert” — as one foreign lobbyist put it. According to a 2016 Justice Department inspector general’s report, there were only seven FARA-related prosecutions

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