His blinkered economic ideas aside, Senator Bernie Sanders at least seems to work within the law. The same can’t be said for one of his presidential campaign outreach advisers, Charles “Chuck” Rocha. Early last month, the webzine Politico reported that Rocha, former political director for the United Steelworkers and now head of a consulting firm called Solidarity Strategies, had been convicted in 2013 of stealing funds from the union. Union Corruption Update has reported on this case. Rocha’s company thus far has received over $200,000 in Sanders campaign disbursements. The revelation suggests that despite the senator’s frequent denunciations of establishment corruption, his populist instincts are less than sound when it comes to hiring campaign help.
It’s difficult to imagine any presidential candidate, even in the Democratic Party, outflanking Bernie Sanders from the Left. The second-term U.S. senator from Vermont, now 74, who previously had served eight terms in the House of Representatives, virtually defines democratic socialism in this country. Though he caucuses with Democrats, and is running for president as a Democrat, Sanders, as a lawmaker, lists himself as an Independent. He views the party mainstream as far too accommodating toward the Right. And he walks the walk, too. His 2016 campaign platform, among other things, calls for: single-payer (i.e., government-payer) health care for all; free tuition at public colleges and universities; a $15 per hour federal minimum wage; and dramatic tax increases on ‘the billionaire class.’ He’s also chief sponsor of legislation mandating employer recognition of a union as a collective bargaining agent in the event a majority of potentially affected workers sign pledge cards during an organizing drive indicating a willingness to join. While he’s a dark horse in the 2016 race for the White House, there is no denying that his popularity, especially with young college-educated voters, has pushed frontrunner Hillary Clinton leftward. Mrs. Clinton’s rhetoric on a number of issues is now identical to that of Sanders. And while Sanders, if nominated, would have only an outside chance of winning the general election, his campaign is laying the groundwork for an eventual socialist-progressive majority.
Sanders, understandably, is seeking support from organized labor. Unions long have been the principal source of funds, manpower and issues advocacy for Democratic Party candidates for President and Congress. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, whose labor federation currently represents 56 unions with a combined 12.7 million members, is committed to defeating Donald Trump or whoever else gets the Republican nomination. “We’ll have literally millions of phone calls, leaflets, door knocks and seminars,” Trumka asserts. Sen. Sanders knows he needs a large union turnout, especially among black and Hispanic rank and file. His base of young white professionals and employed slackers is enthusiastic, but it isn’t enough. This makes Chuck Rocha, a Hispanic, a union man and an experienced Democratic campaign operative, a natural fit. Unfortunately, he also has a “past.”
Rocha until a few years ago was national political director of the United Steelworkers at the union’s Pittsburgh headquarters, managing a $30 million annual budget. His departure was not voluntary. In September 2012, he was indicted in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania on 18 counts of embezzling a combined $6,971.19 in union funds following a Labor Department investigation. In March 2013, he pleaded guilty to one count of stealing $418.66 to cover expenses related to a trip to an NHL Stanley Cup Finals match in Detroit. Rocha admitted responsibility for all other counts as well. That July, he was given two years of probation and ordered to pay a $2,000 fine, having already made restitution in the amount of $12,449.
As far as crooks go, Chuck Rocha was small-time. But that doesn’t mean that he’s a minor figure in the Sanders campaign. Like any consultant, his job is to connect a candidate with a target voting bloc, in this case, Hispanics. He already had served as national labor director for the Dick Gephardt (2004) and John Edwards (2008) presidential campaigns. And the $204,349.86 directed to his firm, Solidarity Strategies, has made him one of the Sanders campaign’s highest-grossing clients. A Sanders spokesman, Jeff Weaver, describing Rocha as “a dedicated person committed to fighting for working people in this country and for people of color,” is open about Rocha’s legal problems. He told Politico: “I’m not politically afraid of this story at all. Please, I’m asking you to print it.”
If there is a scandal here, it is that presidential candidates in both parties have felt a special need to woo Hispanics, even if it means adopting positions on issues that work against the nation’s interests (e.g., support for illegal immigrant amnesty). Some candidates, active and otherwise, have conducted speeches and media spots in Spanish. The Sanders campaign is on board with this. Its disbursements to Solidarity Strategies include a November 11, 2015 payment of $63,588.90 for “translation services.” That alone is an indication that large numbers of voters in this country don’t know how to speak, write or comprehend English. So why are they eligible to vote? Perhaps one of the candidates can raise this question.