Jan 28, 2022 - World

Hungary’s quiet Democratic lobby

Photo illustration of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban behind two shaking hands and the Capitol Dome
Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Hungarian government — known for its links to the Trump administration and conservative supporters — quietly began working late last year with a powerhouse public affairs shop stacked with Democratic talent, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: A spokesperson for the lobbying and PR shop, Actum, told Axios on Friday that the agreement has been terminated. Though short-lived, the relationship shows Hungary is trying to build inroads with a U.S. political party wary of right-wing leader, Viktor Orban.

  • The Actum spokesperson declined to discuss the reasons but said the agreement had been terminated at the end of 2021 and will not be renewed.
  • That termination was not reflected in Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filings as of Friday.

Details: Actum boasts executives from both parties but its roster leans heavily Democratic.

  • Its ranks had included former Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, as well as Mick Mulvaney, the former Republican congressman from South Carolina who served as a chief of staff to former President Donald Trump.
  • But on Friday, Heitkamp abruptly announced her resignation citing "potential conflicats of interest with Actum and my continued advocacy and nonprofit work."

Behind the scenes: In November, the Hungarian embassy inked the deal with an obscure Delaware company called IGG, LLC. It came as Orban's government mounted a far more visible influence campaign aimed at U.S. conservatives.

  • Buried in FARA paperwork is a line noting IGG, LLC, is wholly owned by Actum, which was formed late last year by executives who defected from a K Street mainstay, Mercury Public Affairs.
  • Two Actum partners were working on the Hungary account: former British diplomat George Tucker and Duncan McFetridge, a former aide to California assemblyman Jack Scott and state treasurer Phil Angelides — both Democrats.
  • Hungary agreed to pay IGG $9,500 per month for marketing and communications services, and $235,000 per month for "legal strategy consulting."

IGG is the brainchild of Actum partner Morris Reid, a former Clinton fundraiser and senior administration official, according to a spokesperson for the firm.

  • "Morris has a very long history of interest, passion and work in international affairs," the Actum spokesperson said.
  • It was not clear whether IGG has any additional clients. The spokesperson said the firm will register them where required.

The big picture: Hungary has successfully ingratiated itself with the American right.

  • Trump officially endorsed Orban's re-election bid this month.
  • Fox News primetime host Tucker Carlson has aired his show from Budapest and is planning a return trip.
  • The American Conservative Union is hosting a satellite Conservative Political Action Conference in Hungary this year.

Orban's government has had a harder time winning over Democrats in Washington.

  • When the White House organized a "Summit for Democracy" last year, it invited every European Union member but Hungary.
  • During the 2020 presidential race, the Biden campaign distanced itself from Max Teleki, the head of an informal coalition of pro-Biden Hungarian Americans.
  • According to the New York Times, the Biden camp cited reports of Teleki's ties to Orban and his political party.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that the agreement has been terminated, according to an Actum spokesperson who earlier described the agreement as active.

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