Nonprofits Possible Foreign Agents Registration Act Targets

The House Committee on Natural Resources is seeking additional information from leadership at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) concerning the organization’s relationship with Chinese officials. In a letter dated June 5 and addressed to Rhea Suh, president, the committee expressed concern that NRDC’s need to maintain access with Chinese officials has influenced domestic policies in the U.S. and “may require compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).”

    FARA requires individuals and entities that act at the request of a foreign principal or that are directly or indirectly “supervised, directed, controlled, financed, or subsidized in whole or in major part by a foreign principal” to register with the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ). The letter, signed by Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), requests:

  • Documents that show NRDC’s date of registration as an agent of a foreign principal;
  • If NRDC, and related subsidiaries, have not registered as agents, explanations as to why FARA does not apply;
  • All documents and communications with DoJ relating to FARA registration;
  • Documents signifying transactions or contributions between NRDC or related entities with entities or individuals associated with Chinese official, national, or business interests; and,
  • Organizational policies and procedures aimed at complying with FARA.

The documents requested are to be submitted by June 12. In the letter, the committee voiced concern regarding perceived NRDC self-censorship and refraining from criticism of Chinese environmental policies while taking a more adversarial approach domestically, particularly under the Trump administration. Chinese officials seek to co-opt American influencers to promote a pro-China narrative and reports of poor air quality and other environmental issues undermine the nation’s government, per the committee.

“The Committee is concerned about the NRDC’s role in aiding China’s perception management efforts with respect to pollution control and its international standing on environmental issues in was that may be detrimental to the United States,” the letter reads. “The NRDC’s relationship with China has many of the criteria identified by U.S. intelligence agencies and law enforcement as putting an entity at risk of being influenced or coerced by foreign interests.”

An NRDC spokesperson said via an email with The NonProfit Times that the organization would not comment beyond a statement by Bob Deans, director of strategic engagement. Deans, in the statement, said the NRDC solutions are grounded in science, public policy, and U.S. law and that it works toward U.S. interests in ensuring that Americans and future generations are protected from pollution.