When House Speaker Mike Johnson gave the keynote speech at an elite right-wing conference in 2019, he failed to report the trip on his financial disclosure forms. Four years later, it’s still not clear who paid for him to get there or how much the trip cost, according to a Daily Beast report published Monday.
Johnson delivered his 31-minute speech to the Council for National Policy’s conference in person, traveling from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans for the October 4, 2019, event. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the CNP as “a shadowy and intensely secretive group [that] has operated behind the scenes … to build the conservative movement.”
It’s not unusual for lawmakers to speak at the CNP conference, which occurs three times a year. Representative Jody Hice spoke to the group in February 2019, while Representatives Mark Green and Chip Roy spoke to CNP in 2019 and 2022, respectively. The difference, though, is that all three men reported their trips as gifted travel. They also list the trip on their personal financial disclosure forms. Johnson did not file anything, The Daily Beast found.
“The most reasonable inference is that the very well-heeled CNP covered Johnson’s expenses when he addressed the group’s meeting in 2019, but the new speaker failed to report those gifts,” Brendan Fischer, the deputy executive director of the watchdog group Documented and a legal expert on campaign finance and ethics rules, told The Daily Beast.
“What [would make] it an ethics violation is if the payments aren’t reported.”
Hice, Green, and Roy reported gifted expenses ranging from more than $1,400 to more than $2,600 for travel, lodging, and the event registration fee. Johnson’s financial disclosure forms, already incredibly barren, do not show any trips funded by the CNP.
It’s possible that Johnson paid out of pocket for the trip. But again, given the spare nature of his reported financial situation, that seems highly unlikely (unless he has mounds of cash squirreled away under his mattress).
Johnson could have used campaign or PAC funds to travel, but his campaign and leadership PAC expenses don’t reflect costs that match the CNP event. Another explanation would be that Johnson used taxpayer money for the trip. The House statement of disbursements at the time shows his office reported commercial travel and lodging expenses that match the October 4 trip.
It’s unclear why Johnson would feel the need to pay for his trip at all, though. The CNP is well funded and clearly has no issue paying for his colleagues to speak. What’s more, Johnson has been a member of the CNP since at least July 2012. It’s strange that the organization would reward his loyalty by making him foot the bill.
The New Republic reached out to Johnson’s office for comment, but they had not responded by time of publication.
Johnson is no stranger to speaking at far-right events. He was scheduled to give the keynote address Friday for the Worldwide Freedom Initiative. Johnson spokesman Raj Shah assured TNR that Johnson did not travel for any events over the weekend, but he refused to explicitly confirm whether Johnson had spoken virtually or why the speaker was featured so prominently on WFI social media and event publicity if he did not speak.