Tuesday’s elections don’t just threaten to upend the balance of power in Congress. They could usher in a seismic shift on K Street, too — in the process making a relatively private 48-year-old lobbyist at an upstart firm one of the most powerful people in the nation’s capital.
Jeff Miller is not a household name, but he stands to yield tremendous influence when the next Congress gets sworn into office.
That’s because no one on K Street is as close to Rep. Kevin McCarthy as Miller.
“A lot of people like to think that they’re close to Kevin,” said a former McCarthy aide. “There are very few people who actually talk to him about stuff or that he reaches out to proactively on stuff … Obviously, Jeff is a very key and central figure of that group.”
The two met when Miller was in high school working as a Republican Party intern and McCarthy, 10 years his senior, was a district field rep for a California congressman. By the time McCarthy was bidding to lead the Republican conference back in 2015, Miller had the lawmaker’s ear. And he’s remained a steadfast ally, close confidant, travel companion, helpful fundraiser, and political consigliere ever since.
On Monday evening — the night before the elections that could ultimately help deliver McCarthy his long sought Speaker’s gavel — he was by the congressman’s side at a campaign event in Virginia Beach.
Should McCarthy end up as the next Speaker, Miller, a paid lobbyist for some of the biggest companies in America, stands poised to be the K Street operative with unmatched access.
“Everyone else is a distant second,” said Sam Geduldig, a fellow GOP lobbyist.
The ties between elected officials and the influence industry has always been blurry, with staff and members often going through the revolving door. But few relationships are as tight as the one that exists between Miller and McCarthy.
His proximity to the California Republican has been a big draw for businesses eager to get their issues and pet causes considered before Congress.
Miller Strategies, founded in 2017, boasts a number of Fortune 500 companies with major legislative interest, including Apple, tobacco giant Altria, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and the Big-Tech funded Connected Commerce Council. Potential new clients have already begun approaching the firm, according to a GOP operative familiar with Miller and McCarthy. Public records show that Miller Strategies has registered several new clients in recent months, including the United States Tennis Association.
Miller declined to talk about his business strategy, choosing instead to praise the man with whom he has shared a special bond.
“I’ve known Kevin for more than 30 years, and I could not be more proud of his raw grit, determination, and hard work to make everything that he’s making happen not just for the House but for the country,” Miller said. “The guy’s an amazing leader, and I’m proud to know him.”
While his relationship to McCarthy is about to pay off royally, Miller could face some hurdles in a Republican-run congress. He will have to balance his work for a number of major corporate entities and a GOP leadership increasingly acrimonious towards Big Business. McCarthy himself has targeted the Chamber of Commerce, the main corporate lobby in Washington, over its decision to support Democrats.
Conservative activists, just this week, have called for House Republicans to investigate those companies who have pulled advertisements from Twitter after Elon Musk’s takeover of the site. Other major entities, from Disney to Major League Baseball, have faced intense Republican blowback over taking socially liberal stands. And some GOP lawmakers have pledged to start cracking down on big tech monopolies.
These tensions appeared to be visible this past week when Miller’s firm parted ways with its client Amazon Web Services. Amazon is one of those tech giants that have been targeted by conservatives, most prominently former President Donald Trump.
Corporate America has been skeptical of Republicans too. In the wake of the riot at the Capitol, some major businesses pledged to stop giving to Republican lawmakers who objected to the certification of Joe Biden’s election — a group that included McCarthy himself.
But those boycotts have partially faded. And, Miller himself has proven valuable for the GOP on this front. He worked to assuage concerns of corporate donors in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot and to ensure the big dollar spigot remained open. National Republican Congressional Committee finance director Leigh Ann Gillis called Miller “the MVP of House Republican fundraising efforts this cycle.”
But Miller is also hardly a traditional K Street power player. He splits his time between Texas and D.C., making him a bit different than the other lobbyists in town (he is also a principal at the tax services firm Ryan). He also didn’t graduate from college. He grew up in a working class family in Tehachapi, Calif., a short drive from McCarthy’s hometown of Bakersfield. His father ran a gun manufacturing business. The two men met while McCarthy was working for Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), as he tried to kill firearms-related legislation.
“Jeff has always had Kevin’s ear,” said John Stipicevic, McCarthy’s former deputy chief of staff whom other Republican lobbyists described as the second closest McCarthy insider on K Street. “They grew up together in the world of politics in D.C.”
Miller’s also is relatively new to the influence peddling business in Washington. He did not begin lobbying the White House or Congress until the start of Trump’s presidency. Beyond working as a McCarthy advisor, Miller served as an advisor to former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and campaign manager of Rick Perry’s 2016 presidential bid.
His style is described by contemporaries as direct. And he also is not immune from engaging in political dark arts.
Some of his California political deals embroiled Miller in scandal. Although he was not formally accused of misconduct, a dark money scheme he ran with a business partner around California ballot initiatives led to a probe that resulted in millions of dollars in fines levied against a number of other groups involved.
Washington D.C., however, has been largely good for him, especially during the Trump administration.
The confirmation of Perry to serve as Energy Secretary meant Miller had ties to a Cabinet official. Companies noticed. The first registered D.C. clients of Miller’s firm in 2017 included the energy companies Southern Company and Energy Transfer Partners. Miller was able to secure meetings with key administration officials including Perry and then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, according to documents obtained by the watchdog group American Oversight under the Freedom of Information Act.
When Trump left office, business slowed. The firm’s revenue dropped from $14 million in 2020 to a little under $8 million in 2021.
But political winds change. And as Republicans look likely to recapture one if not two chambers of Congress, the lawmaker that Miller has helped propel to power soon may be his golden ticket.
“I don’t think … [McCarthy] would be as successful of a fundraiser as he is without Jeff’s help,” said Geduldig, adding that he thought even the GOP leader ”would acknowledge that.”
Olivia Beavers, Jordain Carney, & Caitlin Oprysko contributed reporting.