D.C. insider publication Politico recently published a glowing, subscriber-only profile about a “British baroness writing American online safety laws.” But did the publication miss a major scoop in recounting the tale of how Beeban Kidron, a member of the House of Lords and film industry bigwig, succeeded in pushing California into passing its Age Appropriate Design Code law (AADC)?
It appears Kidron and/or her advocacy group 5Rights may violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
In its piece, Politico dubbed Kidron “one of the most important architects” of the AADC and “arguably the most important and effective driver of data privacy and social media rules in the United States.” She de facto wrote the British version of the AADC, which California copied after “Kidron first reached out in late 2021 to Democratic Assemblymember Buffy Wicks…”
“This was not a homegrown bill,” Wicks explained to Politico. “We borrowed this from another country.” A California Republican with whom Wicks partnered characterized Kidron as “instrumental in getting the bill passed.”
Politico reported Kidron “exercises outsized influence by working behind the scenes” and how she does it—through her non-profit. “This year, Kidron’s 5Rights Foundation pushed hard for other states like Maryland and Minnesota to follow the U.K.’s lead in passing their own kids-focused rulebooks.”
The publication cited Sen. Dick Blumenthal (D-Conn.) as saying Kidron “has enormous influence” and referenced Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) meeting with her repeatedly over eight years, meetings relevant to federal legislation.
And a former advisor to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is quoted saying Kidron “gets sh*t done” like no one else. Clearly, Kidron is a force to be reckoned with.
And clearly, she and her organization, 5Rights, are actively seeking to influence legislation and stakeholder opinion on kids online. That puts 5Rights, if not Kidron herself, in clear danger of violating federal law—specifically FARA.
FARA requires agents of foreign principals—like Kidron, or 5Rights, which “is headquartered in London with an office in Brussels”—to register or face criminal sanctions.
Yet according to FARA database searches conducted on August 7, 2023, no FARA filings have been made by or in respect of 5Rights, or Kidron, or figures identified as working on their behalf on legislative initiatives.
If the FARA law sounds familiar, it should. During the federal court hearing last month over Hunter Biden’s plea deal, federal prosecutor Leo Wise confirmed to Judge Maryellen Noreika that Biden was under investigation over a potential FARA violation. According to the DOJ, a willful violation of FARA could result in five-year imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, or both.
In June 2022, 5Rights hired Nichole Rocha, a former staffer “from the California Assembly Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee” who previously “was counsel to the California Senate Judiciary Committee” as its head of U.S. Affairs. In that role, she “work[ed] closely with stakeholders to ensure that the bill was practically feasible from their perspective, without watering down the rights provided to children and youth.”
Rocha has advocated for the AADC in media, nationally, and in states like Nevada. In New Mexico, Maryland, and Minnesota, Rocha testified in support of the AADC. In Minnesota, 5Rights also submitted an FAQ document about AADC; the metadata of that document showed 5Rights Lobbyist Elizabeth Galicia created it. Neither Rocha, nor Galicia, nor 5Rights staffer Marisa Shea (who authored a column advancing 5Rights’ position in Maryland and works for 5Rights from Washington, D.C.) nor 5Rights’ California lobbying firm Capitol Connections has registered under FARA.
However, a search of California’s Fair Political Practices Commission database earlier this year did reveal Capitol Connections registered to lobby for 5Rights on the California AADC. That showed some willingness to engage in some public disclosure. But where California lobbying disclosure requirements might be the equivalent of high school football, FARA is the NFL. The DOJ doesn’t routinely comment on FARA matters, but one has to think they are looking at this.
British sources say it is possible Kidron and her group were just thoroughly unaware of U.S. law requiring registration since nothing comparable exists within the United Kingdom. However, it is somewhat embarrassing to have a baroness merrily proceeding with lobbying and advocacy while very possibly committing a federal crime. It is also noteworthy that the FARA unit of the Department of Justice has become much more active in recent years, famously targeting figures associated with everyone from President Joe Biden to former President Donald Trump to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
But even if Kidron, 5Rights, or its staff comply with FARA and register, there is also something a little out of kilter with U.S. tradition where we see American politicians taking marching orders from a member of the British House of Lords. That is perhaps less galling where Democrats are concerned, given their demonstrated interest in borrowing from abroad where models for bigger government are concerned. The story is, or should be, different for Republicans who famously oppose things like federal courts looking at international or foreign law when deciding cases, and many of whom spent years flocking to conferences littered with tricorn hats and invoking America’s independence from Great Britain.
The story, of course, also should be different for Washington, D.C.-based policy reporters. Surely after the last few years, they should know that every time a foreign individual or entity is name-checked as advocating a particular policy unless it is literally a country’s embassy or president or prime minister, it is probably prudent to check the FARA database, and see if that person or entity complies.