Over nearly two decades, Karl Frisch has earned a national reputation as a creative and effective strategist known for his skilled development and execution of both issue advocacy and electoral communications campaigns. His uniquely witty and incisive political commentary has been featured on talk radio, cable news, and in newspapers around the country.
Karl landed his first political job during his freshman year of college working first for Republicans at the local level and later the national stage. But after working on John McCain’s unsuccessful presidential bid in 2000 he came out of two closets at once: as a gay man and as a progressive.
Since then Karl has worked for a host of Democratic candidates, party committees, and progressive advocacy organizations on the local, state, and national levels. He has helped elect mayors, state legislators, members of congress, governors, and senators. He has crafted communications strategy for Democratic leaders in Congress and national organizations like Media Matters for America, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Today he serves as executive director of Allied Progress, a progressive advocacy organization that uses hard-hitting research and creative campaigns to hold Wall Street and other special interests accountable as well as their allies in Congress and the White House.
A Californian by birth and a longtime Washington, D.C., resident, Karl currently lives with his boyfriend Evan and their dog Dexter in the Virginia suburbs of our nation’s capital.
AAPC: What does being a 2017 AAPC 40 Under 40 Award winner mean to you?
Karl: It means I haven’t wasted the last twenty years of my life! In all seriousness, it feels great to have my career recognized by my peers. In politics we tend to let our bosses shine–that’s what helping to elect people is all about. We take a back seat so that our clients, bosses, issues, etc. can stand out and succeed. Heck, we all know scores of talented politicos that the average voter–let alone campaign staffer–would never be able to pick out of a police lineup, but we’re all familiar with their work. I now run an issue advocacy organization. It’s very different from working on a campaign or at a consulting firm and sometimes it can be strange to have others working their tails off so that the organization can shine. With that in mind, I always try to make sure staff and consultants feel appreciated and valued for their contributions to our important work.
AAPC: Who do you look up to in the industry and why?
Karl: As someone who came of age and began working in politics just as the internet was becoming a “thing,” I’ve been able to watch as technology continually transforms the way we run campaigns and govern. I’m constantly amazed by the political tech pioneers who continue to innovate for progressives year after year–firms like NGP VAN, DSPolitical, and Rising Tide Interactive. It’s times like these when we face an uncertain future that we need the critical advantage companies like these provide.
AAPC: Tell us about something you’re most proud of accomplishing in your professional career.
Karl: I worked my first campaign as a staffer in 1996, and I was deeply afraid that I would be outed as gay. I was worried that if I ever came out I’d never be successful in politics. Looking back, I now see my eventual decision to come out and live honestly ended up having an enormously positive impact on my life and career. It led me to change parties and find a home in Democratic and progressive politics. It led me to new friendships and opportunities. It enabled me to focus on my work rather than my secret. I am so incredibly grateful for the friends who helped me along the way and those who blazed the trail before it was my turn.
AAPC: What advice would you give to a young professional who has their eye on being a future 40 Under 40 Award winner?
Karl: First, quit smoking. (You know who you are!) We want to celebrate your success at 40, not eulogize it. Then I would say it’s important to have a realistic, not cynical, outlook on politics. Understand that one election leads to another election. Success can lead to failure and failure to success. Keep a positive attitude by doing your best work at all times and understanding that you can learn something from everyone. Sometimes that “something” is what to do; and other times, though equally important, that “something” is what not to do. Say thank you. Everyone from your mentors to your interns should know how much you appreciate their contributions to your work and life. Finally, know that an award is just an award. The reward you should be seeking is the trust, respect, and loyalty of your colleagues. Earn those things and you’ll have something far more valuable than being named to this list. Then again, you just might find yourself on it too.