Peters Silent on UAW Corruption Arrests

Union is one of Michigan Dem's largest donors

Sen. Gary Peters (D., Mich.) / Getty Images
October 13, 2020

Sen. Gary Peters (D., Mich.) has remained silent on whether he will return the thousands of dollars in donations that he received from the United Auto Workers after federal authorities arrested the union's top leaders for corruption.

UAW's PAC has donated more than $105,000 to Peters's joint-fundraising committee. The committee in turn funneled $71,200 to Peters's campaign and $278,800 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, according to financial disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission. The PAC's donation made up roughly one-in-four dollars raised by the joint-fundraising committee, making the union by far the largest donor to the entity.

Peters's campaign did not respond to a Washington Free Beacon inquiry about whether the senator will return the funds in light of recent revelations about widespread corruption within the union, which has so far led to guilty pleas from at least 11 union officials, including Gary Jones, the union's former president.

Peters has a long history of working closely with UAW leaders, many of whom are now going to jail for embezzling union funds, conspiracy, and other acts of corruption. Former UAW president Dennis Williams, who served in that position from 2014 to 2018, endorsed Peters during his first Senate run in 2014 and personally appeared in a rally to support his candidacy. Since then, a wide-ranging FBI probe found that Williams used union funds to pay for his personal expenses, including boxes of cigars and high-end alcohol. Peters's campaign continued to accept tens of thousands of dollars in donations from union coffers even after the FBI went public with corruption indictments against senior labor officials beginning in 2019.

Peters is in a hotly contested Senate race against Republican challenger John James. James, previously considered a long-shot candidate by election observers, has narrowed the gap with the incumbent in the last few months of the race, trailing Peters by only one point in the latest polling. The six-figure donations from the union are helping Peters edge out a slight fundraising advantage over his rival. The Michigan senator has raised nearly $22 million to James's $20 million.

UAW told the Free Beacon that local unions "start the endorsement process" to decide which candidate or campaign committee should receive their political donations.

"Our members meet with and study the candidate positions and they then begin the process of who to endorse. The decision starts at the local level," union spokesman Brian Rothenberg said. "So any candidacy that receives donations from the UAW, are receiving money raised voluntarily to candidates—from members in the plant to those campaigns they support."

The union's PAC has also funneled $1 million to the Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.). The Senate Majority PAC in turn has spent more than $6 million in independent expenditures to oppose James. The PAC donations are not the only union money that Peters has received. The Peters campaign has also received $12,951 from individuals affiliated with the union in the 2020 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Despite the mounting guilty pleas, Peters has continued to lean into his close ties with the UAW, which endorsed him alongside other labor groups in September. The Democratic senator appeared alongside UAW secretary-treasurer Ray Curry for the roll call during the Democratic National Convention in August—one week before authorities arrested Williams.

The Senate Majority PAC did not respond to a request for comment.

Update 10/14/2020 8:03 p.m.: This article was updated with comment from the United Auto Workers.