A prominent labor union gave $100,000 to a super PAC run by a former Bernie Sanders campaign adviser who was convicted of defrauding another union.
The United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry donated to Nuestro PAC on Feb. 16, according to Federal Election Commission records. The PAC's founder, Chuck Rocha, pleaded guilty in 2013 to embezzling funds from United Steelworkers, where he served as a political director. He was sentenced to 24 months probation and barred from serving as an officer or agent of a labor union for 13 years.
Rocha’s misdeeds have caused him trouble in progressive circles. During the 2016 Democratic primary, some progressives raised concerns that Rocha’s theft from United Steelworkers conflicted with Sanders’s fight against the political establishment in Washington. Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver defended the relationship with Rocha at the time, saying the political operative was "a dedicated person committed to fighting for working people in this country and for people of color."
Rocha formed Nuestro PAC in 2020 with millions of dollars in funding from a super PAC started by Sanders campaign veterans. Sanders’s campaigns have paid Rocha’s Solidarity Strategies another $12 million since 2015, the Washington Free Beacon reported. Nuestro PAC has supported Jessica Cisneros, a progressive Democrat running in a primary against Rep. Henry Cueller (D., Texas), a moderate Democrat. The PAC also launched a campaign to draft Rep. Ruben Gallego (D., Ariz.) to challenge Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.) in the 2024 Senate primary.
Both the United Association and United Steelworkers are affiliates of the AFL-CIO. Nuestro PAC paid nearly $67,000 last year to Rocha’s consulting firm, Solidarity Strategies, according to FEC records.
Nuestro PAC gave $6,344 last month to Run Ruben Run, the pro-Gallego draft committee. The United Association, which claims to represent 355,000 members, contributed $25,000 to Gallego’s campaigns from 2016 to 2019. Nuestro PAC gave $10,000 to the progressive Justice Democrats PAC last month and paid another $10,482 to Elias Law Group, the law firm owned by scandal-plagued election lawyer Marc Elias.
The United Association’s $100,000 contribution to Nuestro PAC is by far the largest political contribution the trade union made in the current election cycle, campaign finance records show. It has given hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions in past years to Democratic committees like the DNC, Priorities USA, and House Majority PAC.
Rocha was charged in 2013 with using funds from United Steelworkers to pay for Stanley Cup playoff tickets and golf trips in 2008 and 2009. As political director of United Steelworkers, Rocha reportedly managed a $30 million budget for the union’s political outreach to policymakers.
Neither the United Association nor Nuestro PAC responded to requests for comment.