The HighGround team provides its clients with a success-oriented, diverse team of media, public and government affairs experts. We specialize in dealing with complex issues on behalf of clients that face challenges or seek opportunities on a variety of governmental and public affairs levels. Many of these issues involve interfacing with local, county, state and federal government entities, developing diverse coalitions, and crafting thoughtful media strategies.

The firm is small and all principals are actively engaged in the company’s portfolio of clients. We have over 50 years of combined experience on Arizona issues. This translates into unparalleled connections and a unique understanding of Arizona.

J. Charles 'Chuck' Coughlin
President & Chief Executive Officer
Douglas C. Cole
Chief Operating Officer
Scott A. Smith
Senior Vice President - Governmental Affairs
Paul Bentz
Senior Vice President - Research & Strategy
J. Charles 'Chuck' Coughlin     |     President & Chief Executive Officer     |

Chuck Coughlin has over 30 years of experience in Arizona public affairs, lobbying, politics, and strategic messaging. He is the founder and President of HighGround, Inc. – one of the most successful public affairs firms in Arizona. HighGround will be celebrating its 23rd anniversary in 2019, spanning three Presidents, four Governors, nine Senate Presidents, and eight Speakers of the House.

Mr. Coughlin is a four-time honoree as “Best Political Operative” from the Arizona Capital Times and was also previously named “Person You Would Least Like as a Political Opponent.” Coughlin and his team has won over 50 awards from Campaigns and Elections and the American Association of Political Consultants for their work including “2014 Campaign Excellence Public Affairs/Advocacy Campaign of the Year” for Medicaid Restoration.

Passionate about Arizona and its future, Chuck Coughlin spends his time, energy, and political capital on policy efforts that make Arizona a better place. He has played a key role in several recent major public policy issues including higher education; reliable and affordable power generation; the Yes on 480 public hospital bond; Medicaid Restoration; battling against the dangers of energy deregulation; and the passage of Proposition 100 – the temporary one-cent sales tax increase passed by 64% of Arizona voters to stabilize the State’s budget in 2010. Mr. Coughlin is also passionate about State Trust Land Reform, long term water planning, immigration and border security reform – all key issues that he believes are critical to Arizona’s future economy.

Coughlin was asked to serve by then-Secretary of State Jan Brewer as the Chairman of her Transition Team when she became Governor in 2009.  As the Transition Team Chairman, Coughlin assembled a diverse team of business and community leaders who recommended to the Governor her executive management team, senior policy positions, cabinet recommendations and coordinated her swearing in ceremonies.  He served as lead strategist for Governor Brewer’s 2010 bid for a second term. 

Before founding HighGround, Coughlin was the Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Fife Symington. He was responsible for day-to-day management and implementation of all media, legislative and community relations programs for the Administration.  Prior to joining the Governor’s staff, Coughlin managed the Governor’s 1994 re-election campaign.

Prior to joining Symington, Coughlin was the Regional Government Relations Manager for Waste Management of North America (1992-94), Director of Public Policy and Legislative Affairs for Attorney General Grant Woods (1990-91), Senior Account Executive for Nelson/Ralston/Robb Communications (1988-90), Director of Government Relations for the Mesa Chamber of Commerce (1986-88), and Finance Director for McCain for Senate (1985-86).

Mr. Coughlin lives in Arcadia with his wife Patricia, who excels in government, community, and business engagement as a Government Relations manager for the Salt River Project. Chuck is active in his Arcadia neighborhood, is on the board of directors for the Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation (CDC) and serves on the East Valley Partnership Board of Directors.

Douglas C. Cole     |     Chief Operating Officer     |

Douglas C. Cole joined HighGround in 1998 after building a successful public-sector career in the U.S. Congress, the Arizona Governor’s Office and the Arizona Legislature. 

Besides his legislative work, Douglas Cole has been integrally involved in many political campaigns ranging from gubernatorial campaigns (Arizona Governors Jan Brewer and Fife Symington), to congressional (Congressman John J. Rhodes, III), to Secretary of State (Arizona Secretaries of State Betsey Bayless and Jan Brewer), along with numerous statewide initiatives.  Additionally, Cole was the Arizona Communications Director for Sen. John McCain’s 2000 presidential bid.  Cole began his professional career as a staff assistant/intern to then-Congressman John McCain (R-Arizona) in 1985.

Before joining HighGround, Cole was the Director of Communications for the Arizona House of Representatives.  In this position, he was a member of the House’s top management team and was the chief spokesman.

Prior to his top House position, Cole served as Arizona Governor Fife Symington’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications and was his chief spokesman from 1991-97.  As the Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Cole had oversight of the Governor’s offices for Press, Public Affairs, Community Relations, Boards and Commissions, Constituent Services, and the Governor’s Tucson and Flagstaff offices.

Cole served as Press Secretary to Congressman John J. Rhodes, III (R-Arizona) in Washington, DC from 1987-91 during which time Rhodes was a ranking member of the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee.  He was the Public Information Assistant for the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, the operating agency for the Central Arizona Project, from 1985-87 in Phoenix.

Douglas Cole graduated cum laude from The American University, School of International Studies, in Washington, DC.  His curricula included studies at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Mr. Cole is a frequent commentator on Arizona politics in the Arizona media.  He also guest lectures on the media and politics. 

Cole served as a public member of the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments for six (6) years, the Constitutional commission that selects judicial candidates for gubernatorial appointment to the Arizona Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.  Mr. Cole served for eight years on the Maricopa County Commission on Trial Court Appointments.   Mr. Cole served for almost 20 years as a member and chairman of the Phoenix Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee and served on the Arizona 2012 Centennial Board and Foundation. 

Douglas Cole is a fourth-generation Arizonan, born and raised in Pinal County.  He is married to Megan Kintner and has two sons and a daughter.  He is licensed as a Private Pilot.

Scott A. Smith     |     Senior Vice President - Governmental Affairs     |

Scott A. Smith, Senior Vice President - Governmental Affairs, oversees the firm’s impressive book of government affairs clients. Mr. Smith helps clients prepare for government developments, capitalize on opportunities, and execute approaches that align government objectives and business goals. 

Before joining HighGround, Mr. Smith worked at Ballard Spahr as the Managing Director of Government Relations for the Government Relations, Regulatory Affairs and Contracting Group. Mr. Smith previously served as Chief of Staff to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. Prior to that appointment, he served as her Deputy Chief of Staff as well as Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative Affairs. He is particularly well versed in issues involving health care, education, and public safety and helped advance Gov. Brewer’s agenda in each of these critical areas of state government. 

Mr. Smith was a key contributor to many of Gov. Brewer’s signature achievements. During Arizona’s Great Recession, he led Gov. Brewer’s legislative affairs efforts and was instrumental in helping her balance the state’s multibillion-dollar budget shortfall. Moreover, Mr. Smith led the Governor’s successful legislative campaign to refer a penny sales tax to the ballot to provide additional funding to protect education, public safety, and Arizona’s vulnerable populations from even more severe budget reductions. 

In 2012, he was the leading figure behind the Governor’s successful effort to reform and update Arizona’s antiquated personnel system for state employees. In 2013, Mr. Smith was a key participant in Gov. Brewer’s successful Medicaid restoration effort. He was selected by the Governor the following year to lead the effort to comprehensively overhaul Arizona’s child safety system, which resulted in the creation of Arizona’s Department of Child Safety. 

Mr. Smith has nearly 30 years of experience in Arizona state government. Since beginning his career with the Arizona House of Representatives in 1989, he has held significant positions within Arizona’s Department of Administration and Department of Corrections, and has served as the Director of State Relations for Arizona State University.

Mr. Smith has interacted with all aspects of Arizona state government operations and is well positioned to help clients navigate the executive branch, the Arizona Legislature, and other administrative agencies. As the former Director of the Department of Administration, he has extensive experience in Arizona government operations, procurement, contracts, and rulemaking.

Paul Bentz     |     Senior Vice President - Research & Strategy     |

Paul Bentz, Senior Vice President ‐ Research & Strategy, has more than fifteen years of experience in strategy, messaging, and campaign management. He was named to the inaugural “40 Under 40” class from the American Association of Political Consultants and the Inaugural class of “Breakouts” from the Arizona Capitol Times.  He has been at the point of a significant number of major public policy and campaign issues.

He also specializes in public opinion surveys and understanding the Arizona electorate.  In fact, Mr. Bentz was recently recognized as "Best Pollster" by the Arizona Capitol Times.

Mr. Bentz has managed a wide variety of statewide, regional, and local campaigns including Governor Jan Brewer’s successful bid for a second term in 2010.  He also specializes in ballot issues – particularly in the field of education where his experience includes Proposition 100, Yes for West-MEC, and significant number of local school bonds and overrides.  He has built a reputation for managing difficult electoral issues such as the Yes on 480 campaign, the nearly $1 billion-dollar public hospital bond effort in Maricopa County, which overwhelmingly passed with 63.4% of the vote.

In addition, Mr. Bentz has provided strategy and public opinion research on several major key Arizona policy issues.  He worked extensively on the “Restoring Arizona” effort to help restore Arizona’s Medicaid program – which won the “2014 Campaign Excellence Public Affairs/Advocacy Campaign of the Year” from the American Association of Political Consultants.  He has worked with elementary school districts, high school districts, unified school districts, JTEDs, organizations, and universities on various education policy topics.  He has also gained experience in transportation funding, electricity deregulation, election reform, gaming, and many other policy matters.

His efforts on behalf of HighGround’s clients have resulted in more than fifty Pollies and Reed awards for creative campaign endeavors including the “Arizona Sing‐A‐Long” frog puppet video, the “Do the Math” whiteboard, and awards for direct mail, signs, and creative phone calls.

Mr. Bentz graduated magna cum laude from the University of Arizona where he studied Mathematics and Political Science. He has used his background in mathematics to build a burgeoning public opinion practice conducting accurate surveys for candidates, schools, and organizations.

He is frequent media commenter on public issues offering commentary, tweets, and even live blogging several events. He has been panelist at several conferences locally and nationally. He has also a frequent guest on several media programs and public panels as a public opinion and voter turnout expert.

Paul is married to Charlotte and they live in Goodyear with their three daughters. He is an active member of his church and an avid trail runner.

Jeffrey Kros
General Counsel and Public Affairs Consultant
Patrick J. Cunningham
Public Affairs Consulting – General Counsel Emeritus
Barrett Coughlin
Account Executive - Social Media & Public Relations
Patrick Barrett
Account Executive
Jeffrey Kros     |     General Counsel and Public Affairs Consultant     |

Jeffrey Kros serves as HighGround’s General Counsel and Public Affairs Consultant and is a member of the governmental affairs team. He brings in depth knowledge regarding finance, water policy, as well as state and local government.  He was named as Best Capitol Staff in 2015 and Best Political Lawyer in 2018 by the Arizona Capitol Times.

Prior to joining HighGround, Mr. Kros worked in the Arizona House of Representatives as Senior Attorney and Policy Advisor on the House Majority Staff, where he worked on the elections, government and ethics committees as well as the legal advisor on parliamentary issues.   

Prior to serving in the House, Mr. Kros served in the Senate Majority Staff for five years as Deputy General Counsel and Policy Advisor for the water, natural resources and government committees. During this time, he served as a member of the Steering Committee that designed the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP).  He also worked with then-Senator Debbie Lesko on the very successful and comprehensive reform of the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS).

Mr. Kros has also worked as a public and private lobbyist for entities such as the Department of Revenue, the League of Cities & Towns, WorldatWork (formerly the American Compensation Association) and the Arizona Municipal Water Users’ Association (AMWUA).  He also worked with the Arizona Department of Revenue litigating sales and corporate income tax cases as well  as worked as the Research Analyst for the Senate Finance Committee. 

Mr. Kros became a member of the Arizona Bar in 1995. Jeff hails from Omaha, Nebraska where he graduated from Creighton University with a B.S.B.A. in 1990 and Creighton Law School in 1994. He and his wife Kim moved to Arizona in 1995.  Jeff and Kim reside in Scottsdale.

Mr. Kros and HighGround do not provide legal services to HighGround clients.

Patrick J. Cunningham     |     Public Affairs Consulting – General Counsel Emeritus     |

Patrick J. Cunningham brings broad public sector experience and public affairs consulting to HighGround. He recently served as the Phoenix Criminal Division Chief in the US Attorney’s office, supervising federal criminal prosecutions, victim and witness services and asset forfeitures. Previously, he was Deputy Director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality from 2003 through 2009, appointed first by Governor Janet Napolitano in 2003 and reappointed by Governor Jan Brewer in 2009. Before that, Mr. Cunningham worked for 12 years in the Arizona AG’s office as Chief Counsel, Environmental Enforcement Section and Criminal Division.

In the 1980s Mr. Cunningham was a Captain in the US Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps where he prosecuted and defended criminal cases in Germany as a trial attorney. He prepared more than 130 briefs and motions and argued on behalf of the United States in criminal appellate proceedings before the Courts of Appeals for the Armed Forces and the US Supreme Court.

Mr. Cunningham was awarded the Michael J. Brophy Distinguished Service Award from the State Bar of Arizona in 2010, and named Arizona Capitol Times’ “Leader of the Year” in Public Policy for the Environment in 2009. He is from Kingman and received his bachelor’s in 1976 from the University of Michigan, graduating cum laude. He earned his law degree from ASU in 1979.

Mr. Cunningham and Highground do not provide legal services to HighGround clients.

Barrett Coughlin     |     Account Executive - Social Media & Public Relations     |

Barrett Coughlin, Account Executive, Social Media Specialist, is an Arizona native but spent the last 3 years living in New York City where she worked as the Public Relations Assistant and later as the Social Media Manager for fashion designer and tech innovator, Rebecca Minkoff.  Ms. Coughlin implemented competitive digital strategies that earned the brand nationwide recognition.

Ms. Coughlin’s background in Public Relations and her unique understanding of the ever-changing digital space allows her to generate enticing campaigns that appeal to digital natives and newcomers. Her time in New York taught her the value of agility and permits her to navigate a fast paced environment and react effectively to rewrite the original rules of marketing, public relations and brand development.

Ms. Coughlin has a distinctive capacity to build relationships with industry tastemakers to employ the art of influence. Through the impactful use of bloggers and influencers she solidifies brand narratives, increases sales and boosts social engagements across all channels.

She received her Bachelor’s Degree from Kansas State University, majoring in Apparel Marketing and Management. After living in New York & experiencing plenty of cold weather she returned to the Valley of the Sun. 

Patrick Barrett     |     Account Executive     |

Pat Barrett has worked as a political consultant and government affairs specialist across the state since 2012. Born and raised in Arizona, Pat earned an economics degree at Arizona State University and is currently enrolled in Eller’s Executive MBA program with the University of Arizona.

As a political consultant, Pat’s work has earned national awards and helped elect candidates at nearly every level of government. He has excelled at creating robust messaging campaigns, local issue management, and micro-targeting to advance electoral efforts across Arizona. He has managed campaigns to elect members to City Council in Phoenix, Tempe and Glendale. Most recently, Pat served as Finance Director for Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema’s successful 2016 congressional campaign.

Pat also works to help solve problems as a government affairs specialist. He brings his deep understanding of Arizona neighborhoods, grassroots engagement, and economic principles to advocate for consensus driven policy solutions for complex issues. Pat has been able to find efficient solutions to policy that are agreeable to lawmakers, business owners and the community.

Robyne Richards
Office Manager
See Level Writing and Design
Graphic Design and Writing Paul John, Owner
Robyne Richards     |     Office Manager     |

Robyne Richards has 14 years of legislative experience. At the state legislature, she worked directly with members of both chambers in the areas of commerce, natural resources and military. Ms. Richards is responsible for managing the office and supporting team members in government affairs. She is actively involved in local fundraising efforts and serves on a board at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Ms. Richards volunteers for NewLifeCenter domestic violence shelter in Goodyear and advocates for women and children seeking to escape domestic violence.

See Level Writing and Design     |     Graphic Design and Writing Paul John, Owner     |

See Level Writing and Design is a full-service visual and verbal communications company providing concept, writing, design and production for print, broadcast and online media. Founded in 1999 by Paul John, an advertising pro since 1973. See Level is a writing and design consultant for Highground Inc.