If enacted, the bill would tighten disclosure requirements for witnesses.
A new rule for the House of Representatives, proposed by Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind) would force witnesses testifying before Congress to disclose any foreign funding they may have received.
The bill, called the Truth in Testimony Resolution, would require witnesses to list any foreign government donors to whatever think tank or research outlet employs them, and to specify whether they’re testifying on behalf of those organizations. These rules would explicitly require witnesses to list funding from foreign political parties and state-owned enterprises as well as foreign governments. As such, they go above and beyond existing disclosure requirements.
“It’s past time we expose malign foreign influence and take the masks off individuals who testify before Congress while taking money from foreign countries,” Banks said in a statement justifying the proposal.
It’s long been an issue in Congress that witnesses may have taken funding from foreign governments, political parties, and state-owned enterprises. The concern is foreign political agents may be using that funding to ultimately influence the testimony witnesses provide to members of Congress who heed their expertise when considering legislation.
But the fact that we even knew about this incident is rare; think tanks don’t have to disclose the terms of agreements they reach with foreign governments. Even House rules issued in 2015 fail to actually require disclosures of various institutions’ funding when their representatives come before Congress to testify. In all, it’s estimated that many of the think tanks who often provide witness testimony before Congress took in $174 million from foreign governments, state-owned enterprises and foreign political agents just between 2014 and 2018.
In fact, reporting that think tanks have been influenced by foreign governments has existed for almost a decade now. One example highlights how in 2013 the Norwegian government donated millions of dollars to the Center for Global Development — a non-profit research institution — to highlight the benefits of a foreign aid program that, you guessed it, Norway was a major beneficiary of.
Congressional testimony is extremely important to the policymaking process, and it is therefore important to know that the people testifying are not secretly agents of foreign entities. So, yeah, Congress should do more to identify foreign-funded institutions and block them from influencing policy.
Just imagine if Congress were determining whether to penalize American companies that outsource their manufacturing work abroad. Countries eager to maintain that American investment are incentivized to support think tanks that will produce research that promotes their position, and witnesses that can testify to that before Congress.
This is, of course, the way think tanks work in Washington. But a failure to mandate transparency is an invitation for corruption and conflicts of interests.
While the draft legislation proposed by Rep. Banks already has 43 cosponsors, it notably has not attracted Democratic support. It’s essential that a bipartisan compromise be reached, and that legislation like this be enacted in the House.