WASHINGTON -- Relations between the United States and Hungary have deteriorated rapidly in recent weeks, following news that the U.S. imposed travel bans on six Hungarian officials it believes are engaged in corruption.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban dismissed the U.S. evidence of bribery and tax fraud by members of his government as "a flimsy piece of paper," and on Friday he called for the resignation of the top American diplomat in Hungary.
But despite his fiery tone, Orban has not written off the Obama administration. On the contrary, as Orban was publicly knocking the United States to cheers from his supporters this month, his government quietly hired a former Republican congressman, Connie Mack IV, to boost Hungary's image and influence in Washington, D.C.
According to documents recently filed with the Treasury Department's foreign agents registration unit, Mack will be paid $10,000 a month to lead a public relations campaign for Orban's government and to help Hungary find "entrance gates" to people who can "influence political decision making" in Washington.
Mack, a former member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, did not reply to a request for comment from The Huffington Post this week. But congressional staffers with knowledge of the U.S.-Hungary relationship said lawmakers "are still gathering information in order to determine next steps." As long as Hungary remains a thorny diplomatic headache in Washington, there is room for lobbyists like Mack to step in and help steer U.S. policy.
Convincing the U.S. government to lift the travel bans won't be easy. The matter is complicated by concerns among U.S. officials that Orban's government has become increasingly authoritarian in recent years.
In July, Orban said he wants to replace Hungary's democratic government with a more autocratic one that he called "illiberal," modeled on those of Russia, China and Turkey.
Luckily for Mack, he already has experience lobbying on behalf of politically unpopular clients. In addition to Orban, Mack works for the government bank of Sri Lanka, a country under a United Nations investigation for alleged war crimes. Mack also lobbies on behalf of American Task Force Argentina, a small, controversial group of investors that is suing Argentina for payment of defaulted debt.