A recent letter to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a U.S.-based environmental nonprofit organization, from the House Committee on Natural Resources confirms civil society’s worst fears about how the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) can be politicized to target nonprofits in the U.S.  With the letter, the Committee has initiated an investigation of the NRDC, accusing it of being a “foreign agent” of the Chinese government, and inquiring why it hasn’t registered under FARA.

The  letter cites “the potential manipulation of tax-exempt 501(c) organizations by foreign entities to influence U.S. environmental and natural resource policy.” The Committee claims that NRDC has criticized U.S. policies on the environment while praising China’s efforts to comply with climate change commitments, and are therefore acting in the interests of the Chinese government.

FARA is an obscure law requiring registration and disclosure by those acting “for or on behalf of” foreign governments and entities. Passed in 1938 to counter German propaganda in the years leading up to WWII, FARA is intended to create transparency on the communications of foreign governments, political parties, corporations and individuals so that the public can evaluate and make informed judgments. Investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election has generated high interest in the the law, which requires registration and disclosure by those acting “for or on behalf of” foreign governments and entities, and a flurry of bills have been introduced aimed at strengthening it.

Bob Deans, NRDC director of strategic engagement, responded to the congressional letter by stating, “NRDC seeks environmental solutions that are grounded in sound science, U.S. law and the public interest. We work on behalf of every American to protect our people against dangerous pollution and leave our children a livable world. Those are American values, American goals, and advancing them is manifestly in our national interest, as we have consistently demonstrated for nearly 50 years.” Deans added, “We are proud of our work, in China and elsewhere, helping to create a more sustainable future for everyone, and we look forward to discussing that work with  … the committee.”

The Committee demanded that NRDC respond to the Committee by next week. The Washington Post’s coverage is here.