Smart Ideas: How to Stop the Next Paul Manafort

A court artist's drawing shows Paul Manafort (center) and his business associate, Rick Gates, in federal court in Washington on Oct. 30.
Dana Verkouteren via AP
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Nov. 7, 2017, 8 p.m.

Foreign-agents act is far too easy to skirt

Lydia Dennett, writing for Vox

The Foreign Agents Registration Act, which Paul Manafort is accused of violating, is under-enforced. “In fact, its stated policy is to rely on ‘voluntary compliance,’ a manifestly ineffective strategy that allows some foreign agents … to fall through the cracks,” and a 2016 audit found “widespread delinquencies” in compliance rates.” FBI agents have pressed for stronger enforcement, arguing that this “would discourage untoward activity, up to and including spying.” The Justice Department’s FARA enforcement unit “denies that it is reluctant to pursue criminal charges, but argues that it can be harder than agents think to prove willful violation of the law.” Even though the Justice Department will hand out advisory opinions to those concerned about breaking the law, if they “don’t actively reach out … it can be almost impossible to discover if there are foreign agents flying under the radar—either unaware of or misinterpreting the law.”

Islanders must grow their own pot

Ilya Shapiro, writing for the Cato Institute

Massachusetts legalized recreational marijuana, but moving it “from the mainland to surrounding islands” has proved a unique problem because “transporting marijuana by sea or air—across waters under federal jurisdiction—is illegal.” One fix could be tailoring state laws to make transportation of marijuana legal. But if that doesn’t happen, the islands could have to grow and sell marijuana themselves—which could introduce other problems like cost increases, because the cannabis must be tested in certified labs. Groups in Massachusetts, though, are moving “for statutory reform in the state legislature.”

A ferry departing the island of Martha's Vineyard, in Oak Bluffs, Mass. AP Photo/Steven Senne

Isle of Man a hub for private-jet owners

Ryan Chittum and Juliette Garside, writing for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

The “craggy, rain-swept” Isle of Man “has turned itself into a hub in the global financial system by offering low tax rates and tolerating high levels of corporate secrecy. It didn’t have an aircraft registry until 2007 but now maintains the largest offshore plane registry in the world, with roughly 1,000 private airplanes, each generating fees for the island’s financial services industry, the Isle of Man’s biggest employer.” Especially attractive to wealthy jet owners is the island’s “lenient VAT policy and tolerance for arrangements that exploit it.”

Strengthen anti-burrowing laws

Jeff Neal, writing for

The pending Political Appointee Burrowing Prevention Act, intended to keep political appointees from “burrowing” their way into civil-service positions through a two-year “cooling off” period between political and career appointments, could use two fixes to make it “virtually impossible to game” and easier to understand. The first is to “ban burrowing for the duration of an administration. Rather than two years, appointees should be banned from being appointed to a career civil service job during the entire term (or terms) of the administration.” The second: “Require [Office of Personnel Management] approval for anyone who served in a political position in a previous administration in the preceding five years. To ensure that such appointments are free of political interference, the OPM approval authority should rest with the career senior executive responsible for merit system accountability and oversight.”

The Office of Personnel Management AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

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