The Foreign Agents Registration Act was enacted in 1938.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “FARA is a disclosure statute that requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.”

The purpose of the law was to allow the government and public to view and assess the statements and activities of lobbyists in light of their work as foreign agents.

Good law. Makes total sense. The problem is, it never got enforced.

In 2016, the DOJ issued a report that added up all the prosecutions under FARA since 1966.

There were seven.

And only one of the people charged under FARA was convicted at trial. Two pleaded guilty to FARA charges, two were convicted on non-FARA charges and two cases were dismissed – in 50 years, that is.

 But then comes the election of President Donald Trump and voila! The were seven FARA cases in 2017 and 2018 as part of the Mueller probe.

Quoting the DOJ website, “In 2018 alone, more than 20 individuals and entities were criminally charged with violations involving FARA. That is more than the number of individuals and entities charged in all of the prior 50 years.”

You may recall guys like Rick Gates and Michale Flynn got busted under FARA. But the really interesting FARA conviction was that of Paul Manafort.

Ken Silverstein is a long-time Washington reporter and the creator of WashingtonBabylon.com, which carries the tagline “Shocking True Stories and Political Sleaze.” It’s interesting. You should check it out.

Anyway, he wrote an article for Politico in late 2017 under the headline “I've Covered Foreign Lobbying for 20 Years and I'm Amazed Manafort Got Busted.”

He offers this: ”I've written about foreign lobbying and Manafort for more than 20 years. During that time, I’ve seen only a handful of cases brought against people or organizations accused of not registering as foreign agents. And it was always some foreign group, or Washington outsider – the Cuban 5 or someone allegedly connected to Irish Republican Army — never a wired Washington lobbyist like Manafort.”

He goes on to point out that Manafort and dozens of other influence peddlers like him have been operating in plain sight for decades.

Silverstein wrote a piece about Manafort for Fusion in 2016 which focused on Manafort’s ties to the Ukraine. He also wrote a piece for his website that chronicled Manafort’s decades-long association with “dictators and crooks.”

As far back as 1992, Spy magazine called Manafort’s lobbying firm “the sleaziest of all in the Beltway,” giving it a “blood-on-the-hands” rating of four.

“That was a full bloody hand more than the rating accorded to runner-up Edward von Kloberg, whose clients – listed in his Rolodex under D for dictators – including Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Romania’s Nicolae Ceaucescu and Liberia’s Samuel Doe,” Silverstein wrote in the Fusion article.

In a report titled “The Torturers' Lobby,” The Center for Public Integrity chronicled Manafort’s work on behalf of human rights abusers in Nigeria, the Philippines and Kenya. He also worked for UNITA, a band of ruthless Angolan rebels.

And he made a lot of money doing it.

We know about all this, Silverstein says, because Manafort registered as a foreign agent under the FARA.

But somewhere along the line, Manafort stopped registering. Why?

“Manafort discovered that registering simply wasn’t necessary, which made it harder to follow his activities,” Silverstein writes, adding, “It certainly appears that Manafort received undisclosed money from the Ukrainian government or its business allies, and maybe it was laundered offshore. If true, and it has looked that way for a while, that's bad. But if you're going to indict and prosecute lobbyists for failing to disclose their activities, roughly half of Washington would be under arrest.”

So it’s not that lobbyists haven’t been violating this law all along, it just that nobody bothered – or cared – to enforce it.

By all accounts, Manafort was involved in some pretty shady stuff for decades and nobody cared. And I am 100% confident that if he hadn’t hooked his wagon to Donald Trump, he would still be strutting around Washington in expensive suites and dining at the finest restaurants.

But instead, he’s in prison – where he belongs. No argument.

One must wonder why dozens of other non-registered foreign lobbyists aren’t in prison with him.

Perhaps this new, heightened level of scrutiny over FARA and other arcane federal laws will now be applied fairly to law-breakers all across the political spectrum.

I’m not holding my breath.