Top Democratic Recruit Campaigns With Disgraced Former Teamster

Investigation found Nicole Brener-Schmitz embezzled $11,000 in union funds

Illinois Democratic congressional candidate Nikki Budzinski / Twitter
October 22, 2021

A top Democratic congressional candidate in Illinois with ties to President Joe Biden tapped a corrupt former union official to help boost her campaign.

Nikki Budzinski, a former White House official who left the Biden administration to challenge Rep. Rodney Davis (R., Ill.) in a district targeted by Democrats, this week held a campaign event cohosted by Nicole Brener-Schmitz, a disgraced former Teamsters Union political director who resigned after an investigation found she embezzled union funds.

"So proud to cohost this event for @nikkibudzinski, future congresswoman from Illinois and a true fighter for America's working families," Brener-Schmitz captioned an Instagram photo with Budzinski.

Budzinski, who worked in Illinois politics before joining the Biden administration, is poised to be one of the Democratic Party's most important candidates this cycle as the party fights an uphill battle to maintain narrow control of the House of Representatives. The party in 2020 declared Davis one of its top Republican targets, but failed to unseat him. Illinois Democrats, however, are hoping their newly drawn district lines could move the needle enough to give Budzinski a fighting chance, which would boost the odds that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) keeps her gavel in 2023.

Brener-Schmitz in 2016 was dropped from the Teamsters after an investigation found she falsified more than $11,000 worth of Uber ride receipts for reimbursements. The 2016 investigation involving Brener-Schmitz was carried out by an independent investigator required by court order to monitor potential corruption within the Teamsters. The investigator, in a letter to Teamsters president James Hoffa, son of Jimmy Hoffa, recommended that charges be brought against Brener-Schmitz, along with Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall, the second-ranking official in the union.

In 2019, Brener-Schmitz was dropped as national political director of abortion-rights group NARAL, another Democratic ally, for an undisclosed "HR issue." She then went to work for former California congresswoman Katie Hill (D.), who resigned from Congress for inappropriate sexual relationships with her staffers.

Budzinski has a history of working behind the scenes with union players to influence campaigns. As labor outreach director for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, Budzinski coordinated with national labor leaders to pressure local unions not to endorse Bernie Sanders, according to campaign emails revealed by Wikileaks. Her labor connections helped her land prompt endorsements from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, and Communications Workers of America.

One of Brener-Schmitz's clients, according to her LinkedIn, is the Communications Workers of America—the largest media union in the country. The union, which did not respond to a request for comment, endorsed Budzinski days prior to the campaign event hosted by Brener-Schmitz.

Brener-Schmitz told the Washington Free Beacon she cohosted the event with 24 others and in her own capacity.  The Budzinski campaign did not respond to a request for comment on its relationship with Brener-Schmitz.