Ministry of Foreign Affairs obliged by court to publish finances of US-based foundation

In 2015 the Hungarian state commissioned a US-based foundation to promote Hungarian culture and heritage in the United States. The Magyar Foundation for North America received hundreds of millions of forints of public money a year, but the Hungarian foreign ministry refused to disclose how they spent it. We sued the Ministry of Foregin Affairs and Trade for the data and the Budapest court obliged the ministry to disclose financial details. 

The Magyar Foundation of North America (MFNA) was commissioned by the Hungarian state in 2015 and has since spent billions of HUF in the United States „promoting Magyar heritage, history, and pride through educational, social and cultural programs”.

In 2018 Atlatszo filed a FOI request to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade asking for the MFNA’s financial statements about how this money was spent. Since the ministry refused to disclose the data, we filed a FOI lawsuit and last year we have won it.

In the meantime, we obtained tax filings from the MFNA in the United States, which revealed that the organization’s leaders are former colleagues and business partners of Arthur J. Finkelstein, the late Republican political strategist who worked for Hungarian governing party Fidesz until his death in 2017.

Government of Hungary refusing to tell how it spent $7 million in the U.S.

A foundation financed by the government of Hungary spent more than $7 million in the United States in the past three years. The Hungarian state support provided to the Magyar Foundation of North America (MFNA) is supposed to help the organization promote Hungarian culture, strengthen American-Hungarian relations and keep in touch with the Hungarian-American community.

In February 2020 an investigation by Responsible Statecraft has found  that President Trump’s newly installed acting Director of National Intelligence, Richard Grenell, knowingly provided public relations services directed at U.S. media on behalf of the Magyar Foundation of North America.

Grenell didn’t register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), which is a requirement applying to individuals and entities operating inside the U.S. as an “agent” of a “foreign principal.”

Responsible Statecraft cited documents (1, 2) acquired by Atlatszo’s freedom of information request to Hungary’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which revealed that MFNA hired Grenell’s firm, Capitol Media Partners, which, according to the 2017 financial disclosures of the MFNA received USD 103,750 for PR services.

Atlatszo has won the FOI lawsuit against Hungary’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade last year and received invoice summaries for 2015, 2016, 2017 and first half of 2018. The documents signed by CEO Jo Anne Barnhart reveal how much MFNA executives were earning, who were paid travel expenses, what companies the foundation contracted. The invoice summaries indicate smaller amounts for Richard Grenell’s Capitol Media Partners for travel expenses and consulting.

Some of the documents received are blurred and almost unreadable: it is an alarmingly common practice among Hungarian state institutions obliged by the court to disclose something to distort documents to make the journalists life more difficult. You can download the original invoice summaries as received (2015-2016 , 2017 and 2018), and converted into machine readable format (2015-2016 , 2017 and 2018).

You can read the Hungarian version of this story here.

Photo Credit: Richard Allen Grenell, US Ambassador to Germany in Berlin on January 14, 2019. MTI / EPA / Alexander Becher