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Are there any clearly democratic countries that limit the ability of foreign governments, to openly influence their internal politics? What about implementing special laws for that purpose?

Examples could be:

  1. Restraining lobbying groups or political movements from receiving funding from foreign governments.
  2. Employing tough measures (other than mere diplomacy) against foreign governments that openly take sides with parts of their political spectrum.
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    Not sure what counts as "truly Democratic" for you, but USA is known example where foreign lobbyists have to register, etc., and failing to do so is a crime. OTOH that doesn't quite prohibit receiving such funds althogether. May 24, 2023 at 21:03
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    @Fizz, By "Truly Democratic" I mean to exclude Iran and Russia etc.
    – Jacob3
    May 24, 2023 at 21:09
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    How tough is "tough"?
    – henning
    May 25, 2023 at 9:48
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    The UK government attempt to allow the US president to interfere in our Brexit referendum backfired spectacularly; theguardian.com/politics/2016/apr/22/…
    – Valorum
    May 25, 2023 at 17:14
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    @Fizz - Obama's involvement persuaded many people to vote against the Government's preferred position.
    – Valorum
    May 25, 2023 at 19:19

2 Answers 2

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The USA is a [well-]known example where foreign lobbyists have to register and submit various disclosures under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and failing to do so is a crime punishable by imprisonment. OTOH that law doesn't quite prohibit receiving such foreign funds altogether. The FARA law dates back to 1938.

As the Wikipedia page on FARA says, [much] more recently (2018) Australia adopted something somewhat similar, FITSA.

As for #2 issue, counter-measures, at least in recent times, the US has generally taken them by sanctioning specific foreign individuals (when they are outside the reach of US law), but I don't exclude there may have been sanctions against broader entities like governments/countries that were taken at least in part for this reason. One 2023 [EU] paper summarizes the US process for imposing such sanctions:

Under Executive Order 13848 of 12 September 2018, the US intelligence agencies must assess whether there has been foreign interference in a US election, such as tampering with election infrastructure or covert distribution of propaganda and disinformation, within 45 days of that election occurring (US Presidential Documents, 2018). The US Attorney-General and the Secretary of Homeland Security are then charged with evaluating the intelligence assessment to establish the extent to which foreign interference materially affected the security or integrity of the election or of a campaign or candidate. The Secretary of the Treasury reviews their assessment and makes a decision on the imposition of sanctions. Sanctions can include asset freezes, travel bans and restrictions on the largest business entities within the country whose government supported the foreign interference. Sanctions have been issued against 101 individuals and entities under this provision [...]


As suggested in a comment, in 2017 Hungary adopted a law that had some similarity with the Israeli law [subject to another answer], but the Hungarian law ("on the transparency of organisations receiving support from abroad") was challenged by the EU:

The European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, had referred Hungary to the court after Budapest in 2017 passed a law requiring NGOs that receive more than 7.2 million Hungarian forints ($27,000) of foreign funding annually to register as such and make the distinction public.

In May 2021 that law was repealed, and its replacement no longer makes the foreign/domestic distinction, although it allows a state body to publish audits of NGO funding (when they operate in specific domains, religious ones e.g. were excluded).


BTW, you've not explicitly included this in the scope of the Q, but limiting the ability of some foreign state-controlled media to reach the domestic audience has also been a thing lately, in the EU.

under the [...] March 2022 Decision and Regulation, it was prohibited for “operators to broadcast or to enable, facilitate or otherwise contribute to broadcast, any content by the legal persons, entities or bodies [on the banned media list], including through transmission or distribution by any means such as cable, satellite, IP-TV, internet service providers, internet video-sharing platforms or applications, whether new or pre-installed.” Further, any “broadcasting licence or authorisation, transmission and distribution arrangement with the legal persons, entities or bodies” [on the banned media list] was suspended. While it was also prohibited to “participate, knowingly and intentionally, in activities the object or effect of which is to circumvent prohibitions”, including “by acting as a substitute for natural or legal persons, entities or bodies” on the banned media list.

In June it was additionally

prohibited to “advertise products or services in any content produced or broadcast by the legal persons, entities or bodies” on the banned media list.

The banned list was basically Russia's (state-controlled) TV networks.

The preamble/motivation of March regulation (2022/350) specifically mentioned "foreign interference" and the EU parties and elections being targeted:

the need to further strengthen the Union’s and Member States’ resilience as well as their ability to counter hybrid threats, including disinformation, ensuring the coordinated and integrated use of existing and possible new tools for countering hybrid threats at Union and Member States’ level, and possible responses in the field of hybrid threats including, inter alia, to foreign interference and influence operations, which may cover preventive measures as well as the imposition of costs on hostile state and non-state actors.

[...] In particular, the propaganda has repeatedly and consistently targeted European political parties, especially during election periods, as well as targeting civil society, asylum seekers, Russian ethnic minorities, gender minorities, and the functioning of democratic institutions in the Union and its Member States.

Somewhat related, RT France continued to produce content but (due to the EU-level restriction) mostly sent it to African francophone countries. (The internet-side of the ban was also somewhat ineffective as RT France "was still broadcasting live on the fringe platform Odysee", hosted in the US.) But even that came to an end in December, when RT France bank accounts were frozen by a French government's decision.


Finally, direct campaign funding [of domestic candidates] from abroad is more broadly prohibited than 'issue advocacy', in many countries.

This is generally prohibited in the US by federal regulations, although there are some exceptions and state-level elections, especially for referenda may have different rules as of 2021.

As for Europe, one 2006 (i.e. pretty dated) survey noted that France had a broad prohibition, but in other EU countries (like Germany or Spain) only non-EU nationals were prohibited from contributing.

According to a more recent, 2023 study (which alas is not comprehensive in terms of countries), Canada had campaign funding prohibition similar to the US, while in Sweden it a criminal offense to accept foreign funds "with the intention of influencing public opinion on the foundations of the country’s form of government or on matters of significance to the country’s security". (That paper also discusses some 2021-2022 UK proposals, but I'm not sure which of those were actually enacted, if any, in the Elections Act 2022.)

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    And what about Hungary?
    – convert
    May 24, 2023 at 21:54
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    @convert: I'm not sure if the OP considers Hungary "truly Democratic" given their comments. And I don't know a lot about what is left of the Hungarian law after the ECJ challenge (it failed) rferl.org/a/… May 24, 2023 at 21:57
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    Hungary is a member of EU.
    – convert
    May 24, 2023 at 22:01
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    Doesn't the US also prohibit foreign contributions to political campaigns?
    – Barmar
    May 25, 2023 at 14:27
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    @Barmar: France also banned those, at least in 2006, for when I could find a Europea survey. A number of other EU countries (Germany, Spain) prohibited non-EU nationals from donating (but okayed foreign nationals from other EU countries). May 25, 2023 at 17:12
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Israel has since 2016 such a law.

The law requires organisations to state that they rely on foreign funding in all communication with public officials and on TV, newspapers, billboards and online. Representatives of these groups must also declare they depend on foreign contributions to the heads of parliamentary committees when participating in meetings. Failure to comply will result in fines.

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