Working for Us PAC is a political committee that provided more than $4.7 million in independent expenditures to influence the outcome of elections in favor of Democrats during the four federal election cycles from 2010-2016. In at least two races the PAC spent money in primary elections to oppose Democrats running for Congress against other Democrats, and in one of those races appears to have also spent money to support a Republican candidate so as to harm one Democrat and help elect another.
Through November 2018, hedge fund manager Donald Sussman has been the PAC’s largest donor. Other significant contributors have included the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Women Vote! PAC, the United Auto Workers (UAW), and MoveOn.org Political Action.
The PAC’s president, Steve Rosenthal, was also a co-founder and CEO of America Coming Together (ACT), a liberal 527 political action committee with a budget of $142 million that claimed to have made 16 million door-to-door contacts prior to Election Day 2004. During this period, future Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair Donna Brazile complimented Rosenthal for being “as mean and vicious as they come” and the “last great hope of the Democratic Party.”
Background and Leadership
Working for Us PAC is an independent political committee that seeks to influence the outcome of federal elections in favor of Democrats. It is funded by left-of-center individual donors, labor unions and other left-wing political committees.
The president is Steve Rosenthal, the founder and president of two other political entities: The Organizing Group (TOG) and the Atlas Project. During the 2016 federal election cycle, TOG was paid $100,000 by Working for Us PAC for “planning and campaign strategy” and “strategic services.”
Rosenthal has been known as a particularly aggressive campaign operative. In 2004, Donna Brazile, who would become chair of the DNC during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, complimented him for being “as mean and vicious as they come” and the “last great hope of the Democratic Party.”
Rosenthal was also a co-founder and CEO of America Coming Together (ACT), a liberal 527 political action committee with a budget of $142 million, offices in 17 states, and 3000 canvassers, that claimed to have made 16 million door-to-door contacts prior to Election Day 2004. In 2007, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) unanimously ruled that most of ACT’s 2004 campaign cycle donations had violated federal election law, and assessed a $775,000 fine – then the third-largest fine ever imposed by the FEC.
The Working for Us PAC provided more than $4.7 million in independent expenditures during the four federal election cycles from 2010-2016. The PAC spent money either for or against 13 different candidates in 9 different federal races for U.S. president, U.S. Senate, and U.S. House. In all but two cases the expenditures favored Democrats and opposed Republicans.
Working For Us Donation Recipients
|Candidates Supported by PAC|
|President Barack Obama (D)||U.S. President||2012||$208,000|
|Donna Edwards (D-Maryland)||U.S. House||2016||$2,800,000|
|Gary McDowell (D-Michigan)||U.S. House||2012||$168,000|
|John Conyers, Jr. (D-Michigan)||U.S. House||2012||$147,000|
|Vanila Singh (R-California)||U.S. House||2014||$39,000|
|Mark Critz (D-Pennsylvania)||U.S. House||2012||$32,000|
|Candidates Opposed by PAC|
|Mark Kirk (R-Illinois)||U.S. Senate||2010||$692,000|
|Linda McMahon (R-Connecticut)||U.S. Senate||2010, 2012||$72,000|
|Ro Khanna (D-California)||U.S. House||2014||$83,000|
|Sam Caligiuri (R-Connecticut)||U.S. House||2010||$78,000|
|Dan Debicella (R-Connecticut)||U.S. House||2010||$40,000|
|Jason Altmire (D-Pennsylvania)||U.S. House||2012||$24,000|
California’s 17th Congressional District (2014)
Seemingly in conflict with its mission as a left-of-center political committee, the Working for Us PAC spent $39,000 in support of the campaign of Vanila Singh, a Republican running in a 2014 Congressional primary in northern California; and $83,000 opposing Ro Khanna, a Democrat, running in the same race. The likely explanation for this behavior is that the PAC’s ultimate goal was to provide assistance to then-U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D) in his effort to ward off a challenge from fellow Democrat Khanna.
California uses a blanket primary to select candidates for its general elections, meaning all candidates, regardless of party, share the same primary ballot. The top two finishers in this primary, regardless of party, advance to the general election. In this arrangement, when the district skews heavily toward Democrats or Republicans, it is common for the general election to be a one-on-one race between two contestants from the same party.
Such was the case with California’s 17th Congressional District during the 2014 mid-term election. Khanna, a former official in the administration of President Barack Obama, decided to challenge incumbent Honda in the heavily Democratic-leaning seat. As an Indian-American in a district with a large Indian-American population, and with an early 4-1 fundraising advantage over Honda, Khanna posed a serious challenge to the incumbent.
The ideal primary outcome for Honda in this situation would have been for a strong Republican challenger to take one of the top two primary slots along with Honda, thus preventing Khanna from advancing to the general election. This result would leave Honda with a weaker (Republican) general election opponent in the heavily Democratic district.
After Khanna began his challenge to Congressman Honda, anesthesiologist Vanila Singh entered the race as a Republican. Dr. Singh had no prior experience as a candidate, and her only known prior political involvement had been a donation to the campaign of Democratic U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. Singh presented the possibility of stealing enough votes out of Khanna’s base to push him to third place in the primary, and out of the general election. Plainly stated, she was exactly (and quite conveniently) the Republican “opponent” Honda needed in the primary.
With these circumstances in play, the decision by Working for Us PAC to spend its money supporting Singh (a Republican) and opposing Khanna (a Democrat) was very likely a calculated strategy to give Honda (a Democrat) the easiest path to reelection. If so, the strategy somewhat failed: Khanna finished second in the 2014 primary, but then narrowly lost to Honda in the general election, only go come back two years later (2016) and win a general election rematch against Honda.
Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District (2012)
Due to redistricting after the 2010 U.S. Census, U.S. Rep. Mark Critz (D-Pennsylvania) and U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pennsylvania)—both incumbents—were both located within Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District. They ran against one another in the 2012 primary election, with Critz the winner who ultimately lost the general election to a Republican. In that primary the Working for Us PAC took sides between the Democrats, spending money in favor of Critz and against Altmire.
Working For Us Donors (2016)
|Service Employees International Union (SEIU)||$788,750|
|SEIU Connecticut State Council||$30,000|
|Women Vote! PAC||$500,000|
|United Auto Workers (UAW)||$258,000|
|American Federation of Teachers (AFT)||$179,000|
|MoveOn.org Political Action||$139,000|
|International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT)||$115,000|
|International Union of Operating Engin||$100,000|
|Local 30, International Union of Operating Engineers||$5,000|
|Local 478, International Union of Operating Engineers||$7,500|
|Working for Michigan||$84,904|
|United Steelworkers (USW)||$80,000|
|National Education Association (NEA) Advocacy Fund||$79,000|
|American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)||$73,900|
|Our Community Votes||$59,100|
|United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)||$44,000|