Mike Johnson’s ascension is already sparking a cash frenzy

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The key force behind Kevin McCarthy’s fundraising operation is moving to support new House Speaker Mike Johnson, an early sign of some unity among the GOP and a boost to the Republican who has a meager fundraising track record.

Jeff Miller — a top fundraiser, adviser and a longtime pal of McCarthy — said he will begin fundraising for Johnson’s (R-La.) camp. As the new speaker takes the helm of the House GOP, he also assumes responsibility for the party’s House fundraising operation, the resources behind maintaining the slim GOP majority in a heavily fought presidential election season. And Johnson, far from a prolific fundraiser who has only raised about $600,000 between his campaign and leadership PAC since the start of 2023, will need help raising money.

“Throughout my career I have raised money for Republicans as a volunteer, and I intend to continue to do so,” Miller said in a statement to POLITICO. “I will absolutely help the new Speaker raise the resources to grow our majority in the House. Nothing is more important than electing more Republicans to the House of Representatives.”

Republican lobbyists told POLITICO that Johnson was largely an unknown entity on K Street, without the inner circle of longtime Republican leadership like McCarthy or onetime speaker hopeful Steve Scalise (R-La.). But his selection on Wednesday also ushered in a mad dash of K Street denizens elbowing to get close to the new speaker. Before the vote was final, one Republican on K Street said they were about to start calls to plan one of Johnson’s first fundraisers as speaker.

“That reminds me, I need to get a date on the books,” the person said, noting the expectation of other firms to hold events for Johnson soon. The goal was to host it as early as next week, the person said.

It would be the “easiest hundred grand,” said the lobbyist, a former House GOP leadership aide who said they were offering advice on staffing to Johnson’s office.

But the chaos of the last several weeks has certainly complicated fundraising for the House GOP with a slim majority, and the party’s leader must raise tens of millions of dollars to fund its members’ campaign coffers. Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with McCarthy, and an affiliated group announced at the end of September that they had raised $80 million so far this election cycle.

A spokesperson for Axiom Strategies, a GOP firm that works for Johnson’s campaign, said there were plans to grow Johnson’s fundraising team.

On Wednesday, signs emerged that the new fundraising apparatus was already moving into place. In an email to donors obtained by POLITICO, Johnson’s fundraising firm announced that it planned to reschedule two upcoming fundraisers next month — one of which was a lunch with a cap of six attendees — presumably to provide time to search for larger venues and hike up the price of admission.

“Please stay tuned as we work on compling [sic] new opportunities for the Speaker moving forward,” Fundraising Inc.’s Alexandra Kendrick said in the email sent minutes after Johnson’s elevation to speaker became official. The note also provided contact information for those looking to host an event with the new speaker.

Compared to those with committee gavels or longstanding positions in House leadership, Johnson has been a relatively lackluster fundraiser for most of his career. Since he was elected in 2016, he has never raised more than $1.4 million for his campaign over any two-year election cycle. In 2022, he ranked 276th among all House incumbents who sought reelection in terms of total fundraising, according to FEC data, and in the bottom half among Republican members as well.

He also has lacked the same small-dollar operations from which a number of his peers benefit. More than 90 percent of the Louisiana lawmaker’s fundraising over his career has come from large donors and PACs, but he has largely relied on the same sources as other Republicans, according to a POLITICO analysis of contribution data over the last three cycles.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the former NRCC chair, acknowledged that Johnson might not immediately have McCarthy’s fundraising prowess and suggested other Republicans would have to “do their part” to make up the difference.

“So you’ve got a new captain, he does lots of things well, this one he’s going to have to learn a little bit. Everyone else will have to step up,” Cole said.

Johnson also lacks a sprawling network of veteran K Street aides comparable to that of his predecessor. Among the few are Jason Samuels, who was previously Johnson’s communications director and now lobbies for TikTok as the embattled video platform’s deputy director of campaigns and impact.

Dan Ziegler, a longtime executive director of the Republican Study Committee, including during Johnson’s time as the conservative group’s chair, is now a principal at the lobbying firm Williams and Jensen, where he represents clients like Visa, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer and Owens & Minor.

Johnson’s former operations director and policy adviser, Ruth Ward, now works in government affairs for the Family Policy Alliance, while his most recent communications director, Taylor Haulsee, recently joined the public affairs firm PLUS Communications.

Other lobbyists in Johnson’s orbit include former Sen. David Vitter. The Louisiana Republican is now a partner at the firm Mercury Public Affairs and a longtime personal friend of Johnson, a source familiar with their relationship said. Some former Vitter staffers also now work for the new speaker.

And that inner circle of lobbyists or donors is almost certainly growing soon, even as a number of corporate interests eschewed political donations to members like Johnson who objected to the results of the 2020 election.

“Look, K Street is fickle, and they follow power and they follow titles, and when someone becomes the chairman of [the major committees] it doesn’t matter how crazy they thought that person was a minute ago,” said veteran GOP lobbyist Sam Geduldig, who was an aide to John Boehner before he became speaker. He said that, for either party, that person with the gavel will find themselves with an influx of donations.

“What's the easiest — best way to get in a room with the new speaker? Probably at a fundraiser,” he added.

The Chamber of Commerce, which has had a notably fraught relationship with House leadership, was also quick to praise Johnson. The Chamber’s chief policy officer Neil Bradley, a former McCarthy staffer who had a rocky relationship with his old boss, called Johnson “a forceful advocate for free markets, limited government and fiscal responsibility.”

The decision from longtime McCarthy confidant Miller to stand behind the House GOP’s new leader comes as some McCarthy staffers may be readying an exodus to K Street. Multiple lobbyists said that the former speaker’s aides had begun making calls to find new gigs downtown, but one noted that there may not be an excited market for former staffers to the ousted House GOP leader.

Brittany Gibson contributed to this report.