Spotlight: AAPC Class of 2021 40 Under 40 Awardees

CEO, Parabellum Public Affairs

1. How did you first get involved in politics? I graduated from Cal Berkeley undergrad in 2007 and thought: what’s recession proof? Politics.

2. What is the best career advice you’ve ever received? “Treat me good and I’ll treat you better. Treat me bad and I’ll treat you worse.” – Sonny Barger, Hells Angels

3. What was your first impression of the industry? What is your impression now? Not enough folks want to collaborate and improve their chances of winning. Not much has changed.

4. What do you wish other people knew about political consulting? I don’t care what you are hiring for, if you see political campaign experience on a resume, you should know that person has had a baptism by fire in: fundraising, interpersonal dynamics, messaging, strategy, writing, sales, civics, public speaking, media relations, public policy, managing teams, managing expectations, statistics, psychology and working very long hours.



Founder & CEO, Top Drawer Strategies

1. How did you first get involved in politics? My first political activity was viewing a Clinton Gore rally from the shoulders of my grandfather on a cold November night in Ohio. Up past my bedtime, waiting long into the night I couldn’t understand why we were standing around. But, when they came on stage, with Fleetwood Mac blaring, six year old me was officially hooked for life.

2. What is your favorite campaign you have ever been involved in? My favorite campaign was “Yes on 2” to end the use of non-unanimous juries via constitutional amendment. Donors and activists from the extreme fringes banded together to change one of the most racist laws on the books. I doubt I’ll ever get to manage a campaign that involves people with such diverse views on the same side of a very good fight.

3. What do you wish other people knew about political consulting? A lot of people think political consulting is all about playing on fears and divisions. But, to win a campaign it’s almost always necessary to meet voters where they are. That means leading with a message of unity and relatability is typically what we’re working on. I wish more people knew how earnestly we try to make our spaces and our nation better through creativity and skill you can only get working in politics.


During AAPC’s most recent webinar, participants received tips on payment automation, unique ways to manage cash and more in preparation for yet another anticipated record breaking election cycle up ahead.

Key takeaways:

  • Onboarding protocol: Media planners and strategists move a lot of money in a short amount of time. The security of this money cannot be sacrificed for the speed of it. It is so important to have an onboarding protocol in place for new clients in order to keep everyone’s information safe. It has become common to see fraudulent emails asking for wire transfers. It is always worth it to make that extra phone call to your client to double check before assuming the legitimacy of any financial communication.
  • Process automation: With process automation, you can do more work, more efficiently, faster, and with less people. Investing in solutions that streamline the process for agencies can include revisions, electronic vendor confirmations, and more. This reduces data entry and increases the speed of payments. The electronic connectivity helps the media buyers and sellers really streamline their processes.
  • Key to success for business owners: Business owners are so hyper aware of every dollar they spend and have to think a lot about low overhead. Cash management and budgeting is critical. If your programs are not making money, strategic decisions need to be made on what to cut and what to keep. You’ll be glad to have financial systems and best practices in place early when the time for big spending comes.

Click  to listen to the full recording for more insights!

Political Image Usage: Do’s and Don’ts

Content is more important than ever. AAPC caught up with Uri Davidov from Getty Images to talk about the 3 most important things to keep in mind when selecting images for political use and .

1. Authenticity: It is important to choose content that resonates with your audience. If you aren’t connecting with your audience, then advertisements do not hold as much power. Getty Images has started to put together  of themes that are important throughout the market. For example, Getty has a collection of images of women from all different backgrounds, considering over 70% of women don’t feel represented in the ads that are targeting them. In the “Show Us” collection, all photographers are women and there is no photoshop. Authentic is actually one of the keywords that Getty has added to the search function. When you search “authentic,” you’ll see real people in the moment rather than posed.

2. License: You must remember to read through the terms and conditions. Many places don’t allow their images for political use, might have a fee associated with political use, or require permission. These businesses typically operate like a marketplace and often don’t have direct relationships with contributors and photographers. Most times, their money is made from indemnity claims, which can range from $10,000 – $1,000,000.

3. Location: It is essential to use photos that were shot in the United States. Pete Buttigieg was called out for using a free stock photo image of a mother and son in Kenya. Donald Trump was called out for using photos shot in Russia. Getty Images has a location filter available if you’re looking to target a certain geographical location.

Case in point: You’re making a campaign ad or mailer that showcases the natural beauty of your candidate’s district or state.

Do: Use imagery from the district that the campaign is in. If the campaign is statewide, make sure the imagery is from your state.

Don’t: Use imagery that is not properly licensed.

Scholarship Recipient Shares Impressions of Pollies ’21

Thanks to your generous donations, the  provides scholarships to students who have shown a career interest in political consulting and public affairs an opportunity to attend the annual AAPC Pollie Awards & Conference.

This year, the AAPC Foundation selected Christine Cockley, a student from Ohio University pursuing a Master’s in Public Administration. We caught up with Christine to talk about her experience at the 2021 Pollie Conference.

AAPC: What was your biggest takeaway from the 2021 Pollie Conference?

Christine: I realized that I really miss working in the public sector professionally. Attending the educational sessions and networking with professionals in this space solidified my interest in the consulting field. When I first applied for the scholarship, I didn’t know that I was going to encounter so many intelligent people that work together across party lines.

AAPC: What new skills did you gain through this experience?

Christine: I was reminded that it is possible to get back into Conferences and networking even through a pandemic. It can be uncomfortable to put yourself out there during these times but rebuilding my networking skills is so essential to my career path.

AAPC: What was your favorite session and why?

Christine: My favorite session was Building Your Public Affairs Business because it was very applicable to my own interests. Trey Richardson was a phenomenal speaker and it was great to hear the success stories of all the speakers.

AAPC: What advice would you give to other young professionals looking to attend the Pollie Conference for the first time?

Christine: While networking is so important, you need to remember to sit back and soak in your surroundings. Instead of walking up to everyone you see, be aware of your surroundings and network mindfully. Take a mental note of the people you meet and connect with them on LinkedIn. When you send a request, go out of your way to mention a specific piece of your conversation so they remember who you are and where you met. Also, don’t forget to bring your business cards!

AAPC: If you were to describe this experience in one word, what would it be?

Christine: Unforgettable.

Recall Elections: What made California different and what to know going into 2022

AAPC followed up with Democratic consultants working in California to get their takes on what made the Newsom recall campaign different than any other. Read below for insights from Brian Brokaw, political advisor to California Governor Gavin Newsom and Ace Smith, Partner at Bearstar Strategies and Strategist for Governor Newsom.

How does a recall election differ from the regular election cycle? (i.e. campaign finance, timeframe, messaging, strategy, etc.)

Brian: Too many ways to list them all! Some key differences — the typical election year campaign contribution limits do not apply in a recall. We were able to accept six, seven figure contributions. The recall date isn’t known until only several months out, so you have to plan and execute in a much shorter time frame. It’s more like a “snap election” in a parliamentary government than a typical election.

Ace: Traditionally paid persuasion is mainly about persuading folks how to vote – this election required us to use paid communications to persuade people to get out and vote. Because the recall was an off-year election, on a non-November date we spent many of our resources letting voters know: There is an important election on September 14th.

What are the challenges associated with recall campaigns? How do you overcome these challenges?

Brian: First and foremost — we had to motivate voters to vote “NO” on the recall. In other words, we had to turn out voters and convince them to take action to oppose something that they didn’t believe should be happening. It’s a much different and more complicated exercise than motivating voters to take action FOR something. Additionally, two questions appear on the California gubernatorial recall ballot. The first asks if the governor should be recalled. The second question is contingent on passage of the first question, and lists the dozens of replacement candidates. So we had to persuade and turn out voters to vote NO on the first question, and then encouraged them to leave the second question blank. There was a lot of potential for voter confusion, but judging by the final results, confusion wasn’t an issue in this race.

Ace: The biggest challenge was to never allow this election to become a referendum on the Governor, but instead make it into a clear choice between the Governor and Larry Elder.

What was the impact of the September 14th recall election in California?

Brian: Not only did Governor Newsom defeat the recall — he defeated the recall by a resounding margin. As a result, he emerges from this recall in a position of strength as he heads into a re-election year in 2022.

Ace: The largest impact will be felt way beyond the borders of California. People across the country now understand that you can be bold on COVID mandates and not suffer politically. In fact it was our experience that COVID mandates were a central driver for voters in the election.

How does a recall effort in 2021 impact the 2022 midterms in California?

Brian: A number of factors will impact the 2022 midterms, including redistricting, national politics, COVID, the economy, etc. But the failure of the recall does not bode well for California Republicans. The California Republican Party is in disarray and will still need to find candidates to run in the 2022 statewide elections.

Ace: The issues around COVID that we surfaced during the recall election will remain a rallying point for Democrats in the midterms. Additionally, this off year election allowed Democrats to run an unprecedented field campaign which will pay political dividends for some time to come.

Recall Elections: Perspectives from California Professionals

This week, we reached out to California professionals Natalie Blanning Weber and Dave Gilliard of Gilliard Blanning & Associates and Joshua Spivak, Senior Fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Center for Government Reform and author of “Recall Elections: From Alexander Hamilton to Gavin Newsom” to discuss the intricacies and implications of recall elections and give us some insight into the current fight in California.
How does a recall election differ from the regular election cycle?
Natalie and Dave: First, it takes about 2 million total signatures on official petitions to force an election. Obtaining these signatures, especially during the COVID crisis, was an extraordinary challenge. We used Direct Mail and a massive volunteer force. Once the Recall Election qualifies, the timeframe quickens. Candidates have no time to build name ID and fundraising is a huge challenge.
Joshua: Recalls have a very compressed time frame, which makes it quite difficult for officials targeted. In some states, including California and Wisconsin, the campaign finance laws are very different than in other elections. Essentially, there are no limits on fundraising for the target (in California, it is treated as a ballot measure). The result is that the target (Newsom) can raise unlimited funds. Every recall target uses the argument that the recall is a waste of money and an abuse of the process. Sometimes this works, but most of the time, it does not — over the last 10 years, 60% of recall elections have resulted in removal and 6% have led to resignations.
What are the challenges associated with recall campaigns? How do you overcome these challenges?
Natalie and Dave: The YES side has one real advantage – it starts with a lead, in our case a lead of 2 million votes – those who signed the petition. For both sides, the calendar and fundraising are the two biggest challenges. There is little time to educate voters about the recall process, the timing, the importance of voting, etc.
Joshua: The big challenge is turnout. The recall proponents have a “movers’ advantage,” as they are already engaged and enraged. The targeted official must make sure their supporters get to the polls. Notably, in the three previous gubernatorial recall elections, turnout shot up from the last mid-term election.
What are your projections for the September 14th recall election in California?
Natalie and Dave: Question one will be very close. California is a deeply blue state, but with a large percentage of voters highly dissatisfied with the state of affairs – from crime, to homelessness to the cost of living. Californians are paying $5 a gallon for gas! With fires raging and water being cut-off to farms, voters are angry. Republicans are highly motivated to vote in the recall, and Gavin Newsom has a serious problem with his own base. Independents, a key group in California elections, are split evenly. A Republican will take question two.
Joshua: The polls have been moving in a favorable direction for Republicans and supporters of the recall. However, these polls seem to be focused on likely voters. It is not clear how well that screen works, especially with ballots already mailed to people’s homes. By virtue of being in California and the campaign finance rules, Newsom has some significant advantages. What is very different from the Gray Davis recall and the Gavin Newsom one is how much more “blue” California has become. In 2002, Gray Davis won election with 47%. Since you need 50% to survive the recall, Davis was already 3% underwater on day one. Newsom won with 62% of the vote. So he has a 12 point cushion, which is a great advantage.
How does a recall effort in 2021 impact the 2022 midterms in California?
Natalie and Dave: If Gavin Newsom is recalled it will send shockwaves across the nation, especially in progressive circles and, hopefully, rebalance things in California, where hope will be restored for Republicans.
Joshua: It is not clear at this time. It could be that if Gavin Newsom does well, the Republicans will not be able to get a high-quality candidate at the top of the ticket (or even get shut out of the top two race). The result could damage them down ballot. However, it is also likely that it has no impact whatsoever. In 2012, Scott Walker fended off a recall in June. It would be hard to claim that this race helped the Republicans in November, when Barack Obama won Wisconsin.