On the Hill
Respected lobbyist leans on legal education in D.C.
“What you wouldn’t expect is that it’s like a small town,” said Michele Johnson, ’88, ’91, of Washington, D.C. What many consider a bustling metropolitan area populated by power players and complicated politics, she sees as a closeknit community with similar aspects to her hometown of Michigan, N.D., where keeping your word matters and character is valued.
Michele has represented energy and financial services organizations on the Hill throughout her 30-year career. She’s known by her colleagues and contacts as a lobbyist who “gets the job done,” “knows her stuff” and is a bridge builder – all helpful traits to making progress in Congress.
She got her start working on Capitol Hill for Senator Kent Conrad in 1994 and now serves as Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for Synchrony, a Fortune 500 consumer financial company. As Head of Synchrony’s Washington office, her focus is leading her team and lobbying on legislation that affects the credit card industry.
Contrary to the portrayal of lobbying as a mysterious or opaque process in television and movies, Michele says it’s a regulated profession that requires reporting. “It’s very transparent. You know who is working on an issue, and in some cases, their strategy and the likelihood of success. Almost everyone has a lobbyist – corporations, trade associations, consumer organizations, professional groups... the list goes on.”
An attorney by training, Michele prepares her corporate executives for meetings on Capitol Hill with company expertise and clear explanations on issues. “My role as an advocate is to help my corporate leaders interact with policymakers. They are the experts in their field.”
Part of her job is bringing people together across sectors and political parties to support proposed legislation. She had a large hand in doing so for the 2018 federal legislation addressing synthetic identity fraud – when criminals combine real and fabricated forms of identity to form a new, fake identity. The law ultimately paved the way for improved verification identity in financial transactions, protecting individuals from becoming victims and helping financial institutions reduce fraud. For her leadership, Michele was gifted a signed print of the enacted law.
Her interest and commitment in this area continues today as she serves on the Board of Directors of the Identity Theft Resource Center. Michele was also named to the esteemed list of National Institute of Lobbying and Ethics (NILE) 2021 Top Lobbyists in the corporation category.
Michele’s law background has been an asset to her work on the Hill. She learned skills like effective research and presenting persuasive arguments from popular UND law professors such as Larry Kraft, Michael Ahlen and Patti Alleva. A “fierce representative of UND,” as one colleague describes her, Michele is proud of her alma mater and home state and uses both to connect with others on the Hill.
“A school can give you knowledge, but knowing how to thrive in a corporate environment and lead your team with character and professionalism – that’s the kind of thing that’s not easily taught. I think, at a place like UND, the culture engrains it in you.”
A school can give you knowledge, but knowing how to thrive in a corporate environment and lead your team with character and professionalism – that’s the kind of thing that’s not easily taught. I think, at a place like UND, the culture engrains it in you.
When back in Grand Forks, Michele enjoys a UND hockey game and frequents downtown staples including Bonzer’s, Harry’s, The Urban Stampede, Badman Design, and Molly Yeh’s Bernie’s. When she’s in D.C., you may find her at a favorite spot listed below. \
Michele’s D.C. Faves
- Landmarks: Waterside neighborhoods Navy Yard district or The Wharf, Nats Park or The Anthem for concerts and Eastern Market on the weekends.
- Sport Team: The Washington Capitals, featuring Michele’s favorite player, UND alum T.J. Oshie. “Let’s Go Caps!”
- Restaurants: The Duck and the Peach (American), Rasika (Indian), Le Diplomate (French), Caruso’s Grocery (Italian) and Love, Makoto (Japanese).
- Transportation: Walking! The short distance from her office on Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol makes for easy strolls with her dog, Buddy.