A former Bernie Sanders adviser indicted for embezzling money from a labor union is now leading the progressive push to unseat Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.).
Chuck Rocha, the founder of Nuestro PAC, launched the "Run Ruben Run" campaign to encourage Rep. Ruben Gallego (D., Ariz.) to primary Sinema in 2024. Rocha's criminal past surfaced during the 2016 presidential campaign after he joined the Sanders campaign. The longtime labor activist was sentenced to 24 months probation and fined $2,000 after he was convicted of embezzling funds from the United Steelworkers International Union, where he served as political director. Rocha admitted to misusing a union credit card in 2008 and 2009 to pay for golf outings and Stanley Cup tickets.
Nuestro PAC is one of several groups working to unseat Sinema because of her opposition to President Joe Biden's massive $3.5 trillion "Build Back Better" initiative. Way to Win, a group funded by liberal donor George Soros, formed the Primary Sinema PAC, though it has not endorsed a specific candidate. The primary efforts highlight growing disunity within the Democratic Party over the Biden spending plan.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Bold PAC, which Gallego chairs, gave $50,000 in April to Nuestro PAC and $13,000 in May to Rocha's consulting firm, Solidarity Strategies. Bold PAC also contributed $25,000 in August and September to Living United for Change in Arizona, a Soros-funded activist group whose members this month confronted Sinema in a bathroom at Arizona State University.
Gallego and Bold PAC, which has four of Sinema's Senate colleagues as board members, have not publicly weighed in on Living United activists' filming Sinema as she exited a bathroom stall. While there is no indication that Bold PAC or Gallego coordinated with Living United to accost Sinema, the group's viral video of the incident has energized progressives who say it shows that Sinema ignores her constituents.
Gallego's campaign has tapped Rocha's firm and Living United for Change in Arizona for consulting work in the past. Gallego's campaign in 2015 paid Rocha's company $15,000 for political media consulting and $2,000 to Living United, according to campaign finance disclosures.
Rocha maintains close ties to Sanders's political efforts. Friends of Bernie, a political action committee that supports Sanders, has paid Solidarity Strategies more than $55,000 since the 2020 election.
Sanders's campaigns and Friends of Bernie have paid Solidarity Strategies $12,194,951 for consulting and political advertising since 2015, according to campaign finance records.
While Sanders has not weighed in on Sinema's primary, the democratic socialist has criticized Sinema and her fellow centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) over their opposition to "Build Back Better" and other progressive proposals. Sanders also reportedly refused to sign a letter from Senate Democrats that condemned a group of activists with Living United for Change in Arizona after the bathroom stalking incident.
Liberal dark money groups have largely funded Rocha's political action committee through contributions to a Sanders-linked PAC. America's Progressive Promise PAC, a committee started by Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver, last year contributed $4,630,000 to Nuestro PAC. Democracy PAC, which is funded largely by Soros, gave $500,000 to Nuestro PAC.
The Sixteen Thirty Fund, a liberal dark money group, last year gave $4,750,000 to America's Progressive Promise, by far the largest contribution to the Sanders-linked group. The Senate Majority PAC, which is aligned with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), gave $1,050,000 to America's Progressive Promise.
Gallego's office and Bold PAC did not respond to requests for comment. Rocha did not respond to comment requests submitted through his consulting firm.