These days, one of the biggest fibs on K Street is that each firm has at least one lobbyist on staff who has a relationship with Mike Johnson. And, this being K Street, not just a relationship but a relationship—as in, they can fire off a text or make a phone call and get a rapid response à la the halcyon days of the Kevin McCarthy gravy train. It’s the promise of connectivity, after all, that powers the multibillion-dollar influence industry.
Alas, Johnson really isn’t that kind of guy: Perhaps an aversion to lobbyists is part of his self-avowed purity, but it’s also a byproduct of his wonky personality. I’m told by his colleagues on the Judiciary committee that Johnson was never a good texter, even when he was a backbencher. “The whole joke is that the guy doesn’t know anybody,” said one prominent G.O.P. lobbyist. Noted another: “Yes, K Street likes to lie, but he came out of fucking nowhere, and now they’re like, ‘Yeah, I know someone who used to work for him.’”
The absence of anyone with a clear inside track to Johnson illuminates one of the vulnerabilities in Washington’s relationship-based business model. I called around to nearly a dozen lobbying firms, and heard nearly a dozen different lines—everything from We have a former member who was a freshman with Johnson! to One of our former members is also from Louisiana! There was even a We have the wife of a Johnson staffer! For years, you couldn’t walk into a room in Washington without bumping into a person (or 10) who had a relationship with Boehner, Cantor, Ryan or McCarthy. Now, people are still Googling the guy. “I don’t think it’s possible to have Mike Johnson people,” another former lobbyist explained. “He’s six years in. There would be no reason to hire a Johnson staffer before that. He’s a backbencher, conservative nobody; it added no value at your firm.”