Before a relatively short time in elected office, new U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana was a constitutional lawyer deeply involved in religious causes.
Prior to a short stint in the Louisiana legislature, Johnson spent two decades as a public interest lawyer mainly representing clients in so-called religious liberty litigation, he said in an interview with C-SPAN shortly after joining Congress in 2017. He worked in private practice for the Kitchens Law Firm in North Louisiana, and also did work for the conservative Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom, according to a 2015 article in the New Orleans Time-Picayune.
He also “litigated high profile constitutional law cases” defending Second Amendment rights, free speech and free market principles, according to his campaign website.
House Republicans’ choice of Johnson addressed two faults some members of the conference found with a previous speaker-designee who dropped out on Tuesday, Minnesota’s Tom Emmer.
Emmer voted to certify the 2020 presidential election, putting him at odds with former President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 presidential nomination, and for a bill codifying same-sex and interracial marriage. Johnson was on the other side of both votes.
The Louisianan was a strong backer of Trump’s claims that his reelection loss in 2020 was illegitimate. He led 126 House Republicans in an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in a case seeking to overturn Trump’s loss to Joe Biden in that election.
And Johnson voted to object to the 2020 election results from Arizona and Pennsylvania, even after a pro-Trump mob attacked the U.S. Capitol.
In Congress, Johnson has maintained a reputation as an opponent of abortion rights and same-sex marriage. He has an ‘A+’ rating from the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List in the last two sessions of Congress and a 100% rating for the current year from FRC Action, the legislative arm of the influential evangelical group Family Research Council.
The League of Conservation Voters, an environmental advocacy group, has given him a 2% lifetime rating, lower than all but 24 current House members, all Republicans.
He’s received $338,000 in campaign contributions to his personal campaign and leadership committee since 2015 from oil and gas interests influential in Louisiana — the most of any industry, according to Open Secrets, a nonprofit campaign finance tracking organization.
He’s also maintained ties to religious conservatives after coming to Washington.
He taught online college courses at Liberty University, a conservative Christian school in Virginia, earning him just less than $30,000 in 2022, according to his most recent personal financial disclosure, required for members of Congress.
His wife earned income in 2022 from Onward Christian Education Services Inc. and Louisiana Right to Life Educational Committee Inc., according to his financial disclosure.
Johnson’s voting record is strongly conservative, and he has little record of working across the aisle. He voted against high-profile bipartisan laws, including the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law, a gun safety law and a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
Johnson’s campaign fundraising operation has increased by small margins in each cycle since his first House run in 2016. He raised $1.1 million for his first run and over $1.3 million for his most recent reelection, according to Open Secrets. The numbers include money raised for Johnson’s leadership political action committees.
Part of a speaker’s role in modern times has been as a fundraising force for rank-and-file members. Johnson will have to expand his fundraising to replace the prolific Kevin McCarthy, whom eight GOP members ousted three weeks ago.
McCarthy, of California, has raised more than $15 million so far this cycle for his own campaign and his leadership committee. Emmer, the No. 3 House Republican, has raised $3.7 million. Johnson has raised just less than $600,000.
The largest single contributor to Johnson and his leadership PACs over his five campaigns has been Willis-Knighton Health System, a hospital system based in Shreveport whose employees have given $91,000 to Johnson’s campaigns.
House Freedom Fund, the political action committee associated with the far-right House Freedom Caucus, is his second-largest contributor. It has sent $58,000 to Johnson since the 2016 cycle.
A spokesperson for his House office did not respond to an inquiry about whom Johnson represented as an attorney.
Johnson’s legal work does not appear to have been overly profitable. He claimed no assets in his most recent financial disclosure, which is unusual.
House members are required to report any assets worth more than $1,000. Those assets can include real estate, retirement accounts, investment portfolios or simple savings accounts. Many members report millions of dollars in such assets.
Johnson listed between $280,000 and $600,000 in liabilities, most of which was from a home mortgage of between $250,000 and $500,000. The rest of his debt was split between a personal loan taken out in July 2016 and a home equity line of credit taken out in February 2019.
Written by Jacob Fischler, with assistance from Ariana Figueroa and Ashley Murray. Cross-posted from the Kentucky Lantern.