ACLU Taps Karin Johanson as First National Political Director

Leading Legislative and Political Consultant Is Hired to Leverage ACLU’s Political Power Nationwide

June 19, 2015 8:30 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

NEW YORK — Karin Johanson, a leading legislative and political consultant, will become the American Civil Liberties Union’s first national political director on Sept. 8, ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero announced today. The new position reflects the group’s goal of developing a nationwide organization with a strong political program that connects the ACLU’s federal and state work.

The alignment of the ACLU’s federal and state work represents a strategic and organizational shift for the 95-year old civil liberties and civil rights institution. Over the last eight months, the ACLU has raised over $80 million in non-tax-exempt funds, allowing it to grow and deepen its political work at the state and federal level.

In her new position, Johanson will oversee the integration of federal advocacy with state-based issue advocacy, replacing the position of director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, who served as the nonprofit’s chief federal lobbyist. All advocacy staff and federal lobbyists will report to Johanson.

“In Karin Johanson, we’ve found a highly successful strategic leader who can build a nationwide political program that leverages our policy prowess and presence at both the federal and state levels,” said Romero. “The goal is to expand the nature of the ACLU’s work over the long term by building a new political advocacy program that will significantly improve our effectiveness, reach, and impact nationwide. We’re thrilled that Karin wants to take this on.”

Johanson has diverse experience having worked on Capitol Hill and managed political and issue campaigns. She is currently the campaign manager for the Coalition to Stop Fast Track, a large and diverse coalition of labor unions and allies.

On the Hill, she served as chief of staff to Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, now House minority whip. During her time as chief of staff, Hoyer led the fight for enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Johanson has extensive political experience, most notably serving as campaign manager for Tammy Baldwin’s successful 2012 U.S. Senate campaign in Wisconsin. She also was executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006, where she was one of the architects of the campaign to restore the Democratic majority in the House for the first time in 12 years. She has served as communications director and political director of EMILY’s List. At the Dewey Square Group for five years, Johanson advised coalitions working on labor issues, women’s rights, and LGBT equality.

“Karin made history leading my Senate campaign in 2012,” said Sen. Baldwin. “Her finely tuned political instincts, remarkable grasp of the issues, and resoluteness on what was by all accounts a tough campaign describe someone who loves a challenge and knows how to win. I can’t imagine anyone better suited for the ACLU’s new position.”

“The timing couldn’t be better to connect all of ACLU’s work and build an infrastructure that allows us to protect and win back our rights,” said Johanson. “It will be exciting to play a central role in shaping a bold new vision to protect civil liberties at an organization with such a rich history and stellar reputation.”

Romero said that although the ACLU’s reputation is built on nearly a century of effective litigation at every level of the justice system, civil liberties cannot be protected in the courts alone. The new political infrastructure will include long-term capacity-building in several core states, as well as short-term campaigns in various areas of the country. The goal is to advance a powerful political strategy that will equal and supplement the ACLU’s strong litigation program.

“In her work as campaign manager for the Coalition to Stop Fast Track, Karin developed and implemented legislative strategy here in Washington and field tactics across 18 states,” said AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka. “She brought sharp focus, diplomatic skill, and good humor to complicated situations. She’s not afraid of a fight.”

In addition to overseeing the ACLU’s current state-based advocacy, including the “Campaign to End Mass Incarceration” and “Out for Freedom,” which has fought successfully for marriage for same-sex couples, the national political director will lead the development of a “grasstops” deployment strategy — building on the ACLU’s network of 500,000 card-carrying members, as well as the one million people connected as online and social network activists.

While the ACLU is nonpartisan, it has over the years hired political consultants, both Democratic and Republican. But hiring a national political director, according to Romero, signals a significant departure from the ACLU’s past.

“The ACLU is deeply committed to staying relevant in an ever-changing political landscape,” he said. “The states are where the action is on issues from same-sex marriage to abortion rights to ending mass incarceration, and we need to put everything we’ve got into winning those civil liberties fights for a new generation. Bringing on our first national political director, Karin Johanson, is a giant step in that direction.”

Sign up to be the first to hear about how to take action.