Georgia’s ‘Foreign Influence’ Law Is Reasonable

State of the Union: The U.S. State Department has condemned it but making NGOs disclose foreign funding is a sensible precaution.

The U.S. State Department recently condemned a bill that the parliament of Georgia is preparing to pass into law that would require non-governmental organizations that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from foreign sources to disclose that fact. Spokesman Matthew Miller said, in a not so veiled threat, that the law would “impact Georgia’s EU and NATO aspirations.”

Anything that takes NATO membership for Georgia off the table is a good idea, but why is the United States so opposed to a transparency requirement that it is willing to bring out its big diplomatic sticks to get Georgia to drop it? 

Opponents of the bill call it the “Russian law” and imply that the ruling Georgian Dream party is throwing in its lot with Vladimir Putin by cracking down on foreign interference in domestic politics. That lazy slur gives Georgian Dream too little respect and also ignores the party’s record of pursuing membership in the European Union and rejecting membership in the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union.

The Georgian ruling party isn’t pro-Russian. They are pragmatists genuinely worried about preserving their small nation’s sovereignty. And their worries about NGOs operating as instruments of foreign influence are hardly far-fetched. 

According to Almut Rochowanski and Sopiko Japaridze, there are 25,000 registered NGOs in Georgia today and “the vast majority of Georgian NGOs have no local funding at all.” Instead, their funds come from the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development, or George Soros’s Open Society Foundations.

These NGOs do not confine themselves to humanitarian work. Many of them freely engage in partisan activity and vocally oppose the ruling party.

The bill would not prevent foreign-funded NGOs from treating sick children or operating battered women’s shelters. It would simply require groups to disclose foreign funding so that their ventures into domestic politics can be seen in the proper light. Foreign interference in elections has been a sore spot in our own politics recently. We can hardly begrudge the Georgians their similar concerns.

Helen Andrews is a senior editor at The American Conservative, and the author of BOOMERS: The Men and Women Who Promised Freedom and Delivered Disaster (Sentinel, January 2021). She has worked at the Washington Examiner and National Review, and as a think tank researcher at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney, Australia. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, First Things, The Claremont Review of Books, Hedgehog Review, and many others. You can follow her on Twitter at @herandrews.