House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (Calif.) ascension to Speaker could be a boon for a small group of lobbyists within his inner circle.
McCarthy has relied on a small handful of lobbyists for advice and fundraising help. Now those allies are a hot commodity among corporate clients eager to make inroads with McCarthy, who is in lockstep with corporate America on economic policy but has chastised major companies for wading into social and political issues.
“He has an open door to businesses and industries which align with cutting regulations and costs for consumers and families,” said John Stipicevic, a lobbyist at the CGCN Group and former deputy chief of staff for floor and member services for McCarthy.
It took four days and 15 votes for McCarthy to secure the Speakership, and former aides of the new Speaker who have moved to lobbying positions gave him credit for cutting a deal and offering a series of concessions to secure the votes of his opponents.
“It’s a testament to Kevin, and it’s a testament to his staff, that he was able to keep on talking and eventually land this plane,” said Ben Howard, a lobbyist at the Duberstein Group who served as McCarthy’s floor director. “That kind of perseverance is how he’s going to go into negotiations with the Senate and the White House.”
McCarthy’s K Street friends
McCarthy’s closest K Street allies include Stipicevic, Howard and Jeff Miller, McCarthy’s longtime friend and trusted adviser.
The GOP leader leans on Miller as his go-to source for big-money donations. Miller and CGCN Group lobbyists hosted a D.C. fundraiser for McCarthy in January 2022 that brought in $9.5 million, a stunning haul for a single night in the nation’s capital.
But allies say that McCarthy hasn’t relied on traditional K Street giants to help raise campaign cash. Most of his campaign money has come from wealthy individuals and small-dollar online donors.
“McCarthy is going across the country raising huge sums that really dwarf anything that anybody in D.C. can do. The fundraising game has changed considerably, and I think that’s reflected in the party’s emphasis,” said Will Dunham, McCarthy’s former deputy chief of staff for policy who joined lobbying powerhouse Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck in October.
McCarthy’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story.
In an effort to get closer to the newly elected speaker, K Street firms and corporations have rushed to scoop up top McCarthy aides, like Dunham.
Nick Bouknight, the former executive director of McCarthy’s political operation, joined lobbying giant Capitol Counsel in November.
Intel Corp. hired former McCarthy policy director Steve Pinkos as a senior director in July, while Lyft added McCarthy aide Emma Rindels to its lobbying team in April.
Former McCarthy chief of staff Tim Berry, who leads government affairs at JPMorgan Chase, was promoted as the bank’s chairman of the mid-Atlantic region last month.
Stephen Ruppel, McCarthy’s political director for the 2022 election cycle, on Monday joined Miller’s firm, Miller Strategies, which represents deep-pocketed clients such as Apple and the pharmaceutical industry’s leading trade group.
It’s common for congressional staffers to head downtown for the opportunity to multiply their salary after their boss gets a promotion. Several former top aides to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) were among the most sought-after lobbyists in Washington for more than a decade.
Thousands of lobbyists flooded congressional offices after the Capitol campus reopened for the first time in years last week. McCarthy pushed Capitol officials to end COVID-19 rules that restricted lobbyists’ access to lawmakers.
“Whether you’re a constituent, a consultant, company, or trade association, this is a really good time to go in and talk to members again, on both sides of the aisle,” said Tim Pataki, a lobbyist at the CGCN Group and former leadership aide to McCarthy during his time as House majority whip.
Corporate America eyes lobbying wins
The Speaker’s message to corporate America, according to his allies on K Street, is simple: find ways to fit into McCarthy’s agenda or stay out of the way.
They said that corporate clients will find success lobbying House Republicans over common goals, such as reducing taxes, expanding oil and gas production and fighting Biden administration regulations aimed at curbing emissions or empowering worker unions.
But they caution corporations against trying to fend off investigations into Big Tech over allegations of anti-conservative censorship or probes of hedge funds involved in environmental, social and governance investing, among other initiatives targeting businesses.
McCarthy-linked lobbyists expect legislation to slow down under divided control of Congress — which typically leads to lower lobbying spending — and a razor-thin GOP House majority that will likely struggle to reach consensus on key bills.
They pointed to efforts to boost workforce development or counter China’s economic dominance as potential bipartisan measures that would interest corporate America and could make it to President Biden’s desk.
For some corporate clients, the top priority is boosting their relationship with the new Speaker, particularly if Republicans look like they’ll make gains in 2024.
Major corporations and trade associations are on thin ice with Republicans over their public comments on political issues — McCarthy allies point to the wave of companies that criticized Georgia Republicans’ 2021 voting law as being discriminatory toward voters of color.
GOP leaders were also enraged when dozens of major corporations pledged to cut off PAC contributions to lawmakers who objected to the 2020 election results following the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, including McCarthy.
Most companies reversed course last year when it became clear that Republicans were favored to retake the House. McCarthy’s allies on K Street urged executives to resume donations to help restore relations with House GOP leaders.
PACs affiliated with corporations and their trade groups ultimately funneled $66 million to election objectors, according to an analysis from the nonpartisan research group OpenSecrets. McCarthy was the top recipient of that group, bringing in nearly $2.2 million to his campaign and leadership PAC.
“The thing that probably rankled congressional Republicans the most was companies very opportunistically making sanctimonious statements about Republicans and publicly trashing them or publicly distancing themselves from them,” Dunham said. “I think that’s actually what rankled them as much or more than the actual dollars.”
McCarthy has directed much of his ire at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest corporate lobbying group. He lashed out at the Chamber over its decision to endorse a slate of vulnerable House Democrats ahead of the 2020 elections, saying the group had “sold out.”
“Speaker McCarthy and the Republican House majority are an important check and balance on the excesses and overregulation from the current administration,” a Chamber spokesperson said. “We look forward to working with leadership and all members of Congress on pro-growth policies that will move the American economy forward.”