Europe, New in Lobbying

Hungary lobbying dries up after Orban’s White House visit

Hungary’s US lobbying has completely dried up after a flurry of activity around the time of Prime Minister Viktor Orban‘s visit to the White House last spring.

Of the five firms that had been working for the Hungarian Embassy at the time of Orban’s May 13, 2019 visit or right after, not a single one still does. The lobbying drought marks a pause in the country’s efforts to defend its anti-immigration policies and anti-Muslim rhetoric, an influence campaign that hit a peak ahead of the right-wing leader’s controversial US visit.

A spokesman for the embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

The latest firm to disclose the end of its lobbying operations is Capitol Financial Strategies (dba Interlink Capital Strategies) of Arlington. The firm was first hired in December 2018 to help promote foreign direct investment to Hungary and develop business relationships with US companies. That $60,000 contract ended on March 31, 2019, right before Orban’s visit.

The firm later signed another contract with the embassy in August 2019, this time for $75,000. That one ended on Dec. 27, according to a late filing covering the second half of 2019. The firm said it had identified business opportunities across the country:

Capitol Financial Strategies filing with the Department of Justice

Meanwhile Indiana-based law firm Barnes & Thornburg told Foreign Lobby Report on Thursday that it too has stopped working for the embassy and would be updating its lobbying filings accordingly. The firm signed a contract with the embassy in November 2018 to lobby on “general government relations issues, particularly related to religious freedom and immigration.” Hungary has come under criticism in the United States and the European Union for refusing to take in Syrian refugees and for comments accusing Jewish billionaire George Soros of being behind a plot to flood the country with Muslims.

“Our contract with the Embassy lapsed and we therefore did not act as a foreign agent for them during the period starting October 1,” said Barnes & Thornburg partner Craig Burkhardt, who had been the only registered foreign agent on the account. “We kept the registration with the Department of Justice as a matter of administrative convenience in case a new contract might be executed, but that has not occurred as of this time.”

Other firms have also recently disclosed that their relationship with the embassy had ended:

  • Greenberg Traurig terminated its relationship on Jan. 30. The firm was hired by the embassy for a flat fee of $100,000 just weeks before Orban’s visit to lobby on “foreign relations issues”;
  • Greenberg Traurig subcontractor Triconsultants of New York stopped working for the embassy on Dec. 15. The firm was hired for $3,500 per month on the day of Orban’s visit to provide “strategic counsel” to the embassy in strengthening bilateral relations with the United States, including through outreach to New York-based influence groups;”
  • Policy Impact Communications ended its work for the embassy on Dec. 15. The firm founded by former Ronald Reagan administration speechwriter Bill Nixon had worked for the embassy since October 2018 and reported a total of $265,000 in payments from the embassy. The firm notably helped score an interview for Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto on Fox News personality Tucker Carlson‘s show ahead of Orban’s visit.

Update: This post was updated at 12:45 p.m. on July 9 with comment from Barnes & Thornburg.