By Kate Ackley
October 31, 2023
Johnson taps lobbyist as his new policy director
Aides to ex-Speaker McCarthy eye influence gigs, too
House Republicans’ leadership shuffling has begun to spill over into the lobbying sector.
Lobbyist Dan Ziegler confirmed Tuesday he plans to leave the firm Williams and Jensen to join the staff of new Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) as director of policy, while aides to ex-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) have begun to look for new gigs, including in lobbying.
Such moves between Capitol Hill and the influence sector, as congressional staffers and members of Congress turn through the revolving door, can offer glimpses of the deep ties between the two and may help inform lawmakers’ legislative priorities, and explain the outside influences working on them.
Most exit Capitol Hill for more lucrative positions in the private sector, but the reverse also happens, especially in leadership transitions or when new members come to town looking for experienced hands.
“A lot of us are still involved in politics. We love it, so the idea of being able to go back to a senior role on the Hill, for people who are in a position to do that, that’s a pretty attractive thing,” said Brian Pomper, a Democrat who co-leads the firm Akin’s lobbying practice. “If you’re somebody who’s really seasoned and experienced with broad relationships both on the Hill and downtown, that’s a good person to have.”
Ziegler, who said he is likely to start his new job this week, served as executive director of the Republican Study Committee during Johnson’s time chairing it. He joined Williams and Jensen in December and is registered to lobby for such clients as Eli Lilly and Co., Amgen, Visa, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and the Vanguard Group, according to recent lobbying disclosures.
He also previously worked as a lobbyist at the conservative group Heritage Action for America, an organization that is sometimes at odds with the business community.
Johnson’s office did not respond to a request for comment on his decision to bring Ziegler back to Capitol Hill.
But he praised Ziegler in a news release announcing his move to Williams and Jensen late last year.
“He is among the most effective and trusted leaders on Capitol Hill because he is known for his integrity, intelligence, and true conviction,” Johnson said.
Johnson wasn’t the only House Republican to praise Ziegler in the Williams and Jensen news release; Reps. Jim Banks (Ind.) and Kevin Hern (Okla.) did, too.
Williams & Jensen Chairman and CEO Susan Hirschmann said in the same news release that Ziegler was “uniquely positioned” to help the firm’s clients “navigate the new House of Representatives through his knowledge of policy and the legislative process as well as his experience in successfully engaging with leadership and rank-and-file members.” Williams and Jensen did not respond to requests for comment about Ziegler’s move.
After Johnson became speaker last week, Ziegler said his phone hadn’t stopped ringing.
Other former leadership aides that have cycled between the lobbying sector and Capitol Hill include Dan Meyer, who retired after serving as chief of staff to then-Speaker McCarthy and previously lobbying at the Duberstein Group.
“In leadership offices, there are policy chops you need to have and political chops you need to have,” said John Murray, once an aide to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who is now a partner with Monument Advocacy. Having staff with “an understanding of how downtown works and the broader environment in which you’re going to be legislating and governing” can be an advantage for lawmakers.
Lobbyist headhunter, Ivan Adler, said there’s always a job market for well-regarded, senior leadership aides and their bosses.
McCarthy has said he plans to stay in Congress, but should he decide to decamp from Capitol Hill, as a former speaker, “he’s likely worth at least $1 million,” Adler said.
Looking for Work
Though some former McCarthy staffers are staying on in the Johnson operation, at least in the short-term, some have begun to look for other positions, including in the lobbying sector, said headhunters and hiring managers.
“Companies and associations and firms are still waiting for the dust to settle a bit, but I’ve definitely been receiving calls from high-ranking staffers as well as potential employers,” said Nels Olson, a vice chairman at the recruiting firm Korn Ferry where he also heads the global government affairs practice.
Many lobbying shops said they are generally interested in top aides.
“We’re always looking for the right talent,” said Nadeam Elshami, a former aide to ex-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif), who co-leads the lobbying practice at Brownstein Hyatt.
Mark Williams, a former House GOP aide now a lobbyist at Ferox Strategies, said many of the ex-McCarthy staffers are “excellent operators. There’s always a market off the Hill for excellent operators.”