The European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, an obscure nonprofit based in Belgium, was founded by a former top official in Ukraine’s governing party and appears to be a proxy for the country’s pro-Russian government. In 2012, the group hired a pair of high-powered American lobbying firms to advocate on its behalf.
But what those lobbyists, who include Obama-era Democratic superlobbyist Tony Podesta, are actually doing is a mystery. Unlike the Washington firms hired directly by foreign governments, Ukraine’s leadership has slipped its American agenda through an increasingly popular loophole in the federal law intended to regulate foreign activity in the United States, allowing it to follow the minimal disclosure practices required of domestic corporate lobbies, not the extensive ones demanded of registered foreign agents. It’s a loophole now used by a range of post-communist governments, in particular, with money to burn and no particular love of transparency. And it offers a path to the end of a disclosure regime put in place in 1938, amid American concern over the effects of Nazi propaganda.