Mark McKinnon

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Mark McKinnon

Mark McKinnon (born May 5, 1955) is an American political advisor. He is Global Vice-Chairman of Hill & Knowlton Strategies, an international communications consultancy, and the President of Maverick Media. He is a co-founder of No Labels and also is on the Board of Advisors of Americans Elect. McKinnon switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party after meeting then Texas Governor George W. Bush. He has worked for many causes, companies and candidates, including former President George W. Bush, 2008 Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain, late former Governor Ann Richards, Congressman Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong and Bono.[1]

McKinnon and Julian Castro, HUD Secretary, serve as co-chairs of Southerners for the Freedom to Marry.[2] In 2014, McKinnon launched Mayday PAC to force ethics reform in the United States Congress, along with Harvard Law Professor Larry Lessig and tech moguls Steve Wozniak, Fred Wilson, Peter Thiel; and Reid Hoffman. McKinnon serves as the board treasurer.[3]


Mark McKinnon began his career as a songwriter in Nashville, Tennessee, working alongside country music's legendary songwriter Kris Kristofferson.[4] He returned to Texas to study at The University of Texas at Austin and was the editor of the student newspaper, The Daily Texan.[5] While working for The Daily Texan he was jailed briefly on a First Amendment issue.[6] McKinnon’s first political campaign experience was volunteering for then Texas State Senator Lloyd Doggett’s 1984 campaign. Paul Begala, who worked in the upper echelon of the campaign at the time, gave him his first big break moving him into the press office for Doggett’s campaign.[7][8] Mark McKinnon then went to work for former Texas Governor Mark White during his 1986 campaign [9] and then worked on former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer’s campaign in 1987.[5] McKinnon later went to work for the New York-based international political media consulting company Sawyer Miller Group in 1998.[10] McKinnon spent the next several years working on many Texas Democratic winning campaigns,[11] including for late Governor Ann Richards, former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier, and the late Congressman Charlie Wilson.[12] After returning to Texas, he joined Public Strategies, Inc. in 1990 and in 1996, McKinnon announced in the Texas Monthly that he was shifting gears and leaving partisan politics in an article entitled, "The Spin Doctor is Out".[7]

McKinnon returned to politics after meeting then Governor George W. Bush at a dinner at the governor’s mansion. Following this encounter, McKinnon and Bush developed a personal relationship. According to Karl Rove, "Bush and McKinnon clicked from moment one. In a bow to McKinnon's cool image, Bush dubbed him "M-Kat."[13] Of his relationship with Bush, McKinnon said, “We had a personal relationship before we had a professional relationship. And when Texas’ Democratic lieutenant governor Bob Bullock endorsed Bush over the Democratic gubernatorial nominee — his own god-son — well that’s when I crossed the bridge. But it was not an easy decision.”[11] In his autobiography, Karl Rove says that Bob Bullock actually recommended McKinnon to handle Bush's advertising.[14] During a Frontline interview describing the former president’s ascendance into the national political arena, McKinnon said, “this Governor Bush was doing some things that really got my attention. He was talking about education reform. He was talking about immigration reform. He was talking about issues that had typically been Democratic issues. He was talking about them in a really compassionate way.’’[15] McKinnon said that he was particularly “impressed with how he’d gotten ahead of the Republican Party.”[11]

Shortly after this initial meeting, McKinnon joined President Bush’s first presidential campaign as the chief media advisor, directing the advertising effort in 2000, a role he would reprise in the 2004 elections. President Bush appointed McKinnon to serve as a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the independent, autonomous entity responsible for all U.S. government sponsored, non-military, international broadcasting.[16] McKinnon began serving as the principal media advisor for Senator McCain’s presidential bid for the Republican primaries in January, 2007, but decided to leave the campaign on May 21, 2008. Regarding his decision, McKinnon stated that he preferred not to campaign against Illinois Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for president because Obama's election "would send a great message to the country and the world."[17] In leaving his advising role, McKinnon said he preferred to be a “fan, friend, and cheerleader” for McCain’s campaign,[18] but preferred not to be the “tip of the spear in attacking him (Obama)”.[19]

On August 27, 2008, the Dallas Morning News reported that McKinnon helped Cindy McCain in her preparation for her GOP convention speech.[20] At this time McKinnon clarified that he was not in fact "returning" to his role as media advisor to the McCain campaign, but that he was instead helping the McCains out of his "friendship" to them.[21] Rory O'Connor from the Huffington Post reported NBC had actually reported incorrectly on McKinnon's role in the McCain campaign. According to O'Connor McKinnon felt that he was keeping true to his pledge in not attacking Obama by only "acting as a facilitator to help with Cindy's speech. That means helping to identify speechwriters, Mari Will and Lionel Chetwynd, and working with them and Cindy on the speech." O'Connor also noted that McKinnon stated that he was not helping the McCain campaign with advertising.[22]

Although it was also reported by Vanity Fair that McKinnon had returned to the McCain campaign to prep Sarah Palin for the United States vice-presidential debate, 2008,[23] in their recent reportorial book Game Change, journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin suggest that McKinnon was extremely reluctant to help coach Palin for the debate. According to these political journalists, "(Rick) Davis had pleaded with Mark McKinnon, who had decided to sit out the general election because he wanted no part of flaying Obama, to ride to their rescue; he agreed, but just for that one night." [24] In Game Change it is reported that McKinnon was not impressed with Palin's performance during the run-through before the debate. When one of McCain's campaign advisors asked him what he thought about Palin's practice runs, McKinnon replied "Oh.My.God."[24] On September 27, 2008, the Sunday Telegraph and UPI both cited McKinnon's defense of the McCain team's hiring multiple former Bush staffers as advisors to Sarah Palin: "There aren't a lot of experienced, skilled political operatives around who can work at the presidential level.... And of those that are available on the Republican side, almost all of them worked for George Bush. It would be very hard to put together a presidential team on the Republican side without hiring former Bush hands."[25][26]

McKinnon currently co-chairs for Arts+Labs [27] and serves on the boards of the Lance Armstrong Foundation[28] and Change Congress,[29] an organization dedicated to campaign finance reform. He lectures frequently at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University[30] and The Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin.[31] He also writes a weekly column for The Daily Beast.[32]

In 2010, McKinnon became a founding leader of No Labels, a 501(c)(4) citizens movement of Republicans, Democrats and Independents[33] whose mission is to address the politics of problem solving.[34]

In June, 2011, McKinnon was in favor of Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)/Protect IP Act. On the 15th, Arts + Labs co-chair McKinnon sponsored the "CREATE -- A Forum on Creativity, Commerce, Copyright, Counterfeiting and Policy" conference with members of Congress, artists and information-business executives.[35]

In 2011-12, he served as an informal advisor to Buddy Roemer's presidential campaign.[36]

On November 8, 2012, McKinnon admitted on National Public Radio that he voted for Gary Johnson in the 2012 U.S. Presidential election.[37]

In 2013, McKinnon was a signatory to an amicus curiae brief submitted to the Supreme Court in support of same-sex marriage during the Hollingsworth v. Perry case.[38]

Personal life[edit]

McKinnon attended the University of Texas at Austin and served as editor of the award-winning college newspaper, The Daily Texan.[39] He has a tattoo on his right arm of the number “40” in remembrance of the NFL football player and US soldier Pat Tillman who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan.[11] McKinnon also is a two-time Ironman Triathlon finisher.[40] He met his wife Annie before he could drive and they have two grown daughters, Brita and Kendall.[41]


  1. ^ "mark-mckinnon – senior strategies". Retrieved 2010-01-14. 
  2. ^ "Freedom to Marry". Retrieved 2015-05-23. 
  3. ^ "Tech Moguls raise cash to fight Washington's Big Money Problem". Retrieved 2015-06-25. 
  4. ^ Carney, James (1999-11-29). "Mark McKinnon : Time Magazine". Retrieved 2010-02-24. 
  5. ^ a b "The Loyal Lieutenants, Bush Applies Litmus Test of Allegiance in Choosing Inner Circle". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-01-25. 
  6. ^ "Karl Rove The Architect, Interview Mark McKinnon". PBS. Retrieved 2010-01-25. 
  7. ^ a b "The Spin Doctor is Out". Retrieved 2010-02-12. 
  8. ^ Mark McKinnon; Oconnor, Rory (2008-03-28). "The Best Reason to Support Obama". Retrieved 2010-02-12. 
  9. ^ Mark McKinnon. "Campaign Consultants". Retrieved 2010-01-25. 
  10. ^ "Mad Men – Is the golden age of political consulting over?". Retrieved 2010-01-25. 
  11. ^ a b c d "Bush Consultant Mark McKinnon – Obama Hasn't Gotten All Ideological". Retrieved 2010-03-01. 
  12. ^ "Good Time Charlie – A Fun-loving Breed Extinct in Today's Congress". Retrieved 2010-02-25. 
  13. ^ Rove, K: Courage and Consequence, page 119. Threshold Editions, 2010.
  14. ^ Rove, K: Courage and Consequence, page 118. Threshold Editions, 2010.
  15. ^ "The Architect – Karl Rove – Interview with Mark McKinnon". Retrieved 2010-01-25. 
  16. ^ "Mark McKinnon Interview on Charlie Rose". Retrieved 2010-03-01. 
  17. ^ "Mark McKinnon, true to vow, exits McCain team rather than fight Obama". 2008-05-20. Retrieved 2010-04-08. 
  18. ^ Oconnor, Rory (2008-09-27). "NBC Wrong on McCain/McKinnon Claim". Retrieved 2010-02-21. 
  19. ^ "How Her Mind Works". Retrieved 2010-02-23. 
  20. ^ ""Texas consultant Mark McKinnon, who quit McCain campaign, lends Cindy McCain a hand", Dallas Morning News, August 27, 2008". 2008-08-27. Retrieved 2009-07-01. 
  21. ^ ""Texas consultant Mark McKinnon, who quit McCain campaign, lends Cindy McCain a hand", Dallas Morning News, August 27, 2008". 2008-08-27. Retrieved 2010-04-20. 
  22. ^ Oconnor, Rory (2008-08-27). ""NBC Wrong on McKinnon/McCain Campaign", Huffington Post, August 27, 2008". Retrieved 2010-04-20. 
  23. ^ ""It Came From Wasilla" Vanity Fair, August, 2009". Retrieved 2009-07-09. 
  24. ^ a b Heileman, J. and Halperin, M.: Game Change, page 404. Harper Collins, 2010.
  25. ^ Sherwell, Philip (2008-09-27). "Sunday Telegraph (September 27, 2008) "Vice-presidential debate: Sarah Palin relies on Bush veterans for her big day"". London: Retrieved 2009-07-01. 
  26. ^ "(September 27, 2008) "Report: Bush veterans prep Palin"". 2008-09-27. Retrieved 2009-07-01. 
  27. ^ "Arts+Labs". Retrieved 2010-04-16. 
  28. ^ "Our Leaders – Board of Directors". Retrieved 2010-04-08. 
  29. ^ "Fix Congress First – About – Board of Directors". Retrieved 2010-02-19. 
  30. ^ "Past Fellows and Visiting Faculty". Retrieved 2010-01-25. 
  31. ^ "Faculty and Research – Mark McKinnon". Retrieved 2010-01-25. 
  32. ^ "Mark McKinnon". Retrieved 2010-01-15. 
  33. ^ Oliphant, James (September 26, 2010). "Tired of 'tea party' sniping, moderates organize". Los Angeles Times. 
  34. ^ "Houston ground zero for a radical political movement reaching both Democrats and Republicans". Culture Map Houston. June 2, 2010. 
  35. ^ "Arts+Labs Presents: CREATE -- Protecting Creativity from the Ground Up", Arts+Labs blog, June 1, 2011 12:11 pm. Retrieved 2011-11-30.
  36. ^ Governor Charles “Buddy” Roemer Suspends Campaign
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^ "Texas Monthly Talks – Mark McKinnon – Notes from Evan Smith". Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  40. ^ "Maverick Media Rides Again". Retrieved 2010-03-02.  External link in |publisher= (help)
  41. ^ "The Arena Profile – Mark McKinnon". Retrieved 2010-01-25.  External link in |publisher= (help)