- Co-founder of America Coming Together (ACT) – the Shadow Party’s labor wing and its get-out-the-vote machine
- Helped pioneer the New Labor movement, which seeks to organize government workers – the fastest-growing and most politically leftwing sector of the US workforce
- Former Political Director of the AFL-CIO
Steven S. Rosenthal was born on January 21, 1953 in Brooklyn, New York, where his father was a shoe salesman and union organizer. In the mid-1970s, he graduated from SUNY New Paltz with a degree in political science.
Rosenthal volunteered for George McGovern’s failed bid for the White House in 1972, and has worked in various capacities on numerous Democratic presidential campaign since then—as well as many local, state, and congressional races. During one of those campaigns, Rosenthal met his future mentor, Morton Bahr, who served as president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) from 1985-2005. Rosenthal himself worked for CWA from 1981-92 — first as a political director, then as director of public affairs, and ultimately as Bahr’s administrative assistant.
Rosenthal joined the Bill Clinton presidential campaign in 1991; he was appointed deputy political director of the Democratic National Committee in March 1992; and from January 1993 to December 1995 he served as associate deputy secretary of the U.S. Labor Department, advising then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich on union-related matters. Rosenthal left the White House at the end of 1995 to take a job as the AFL-CIO‘s political director—a position he would hold for the next seven years.
At the AFL-CIO, Rosenthal made his name by organizing and running grassroots get-out-the-vote campaigns in 1996, 1998, 2000, and 2002. His high profile made him a contender in the massive power struggle that was taking shape within the AFL-CIO at that time. With Sweeney nearing retirement age, Rosenthal, AFSCME president Gerald McEntee, and SEIU president Andrew Stern all jockeyed to position themselves as Sweeney’s successor atop the AFL-CIO. But rising tensions between Sweeney and Rosenthal resulted in Rosenthal’s resignation from the AFL-CIO in November 2002, and Sweeney ultimately stayed on as the Federation’s president until 2009.
In November 2002, shortly after the passage of that year’s Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act—better known as the McCain-Feingold Act (which banned “soft-money” donations in politics) — the longtime leftwing activist/organizer Gina Glantz called a meeting (in Washington, D.C.) of key Democrat political operatives including Rosenthal, Harold Ickes, Ellen Malcolm, Carl Pope, and Andrew Stern. At this gathering, Glantz urged the formation of an “umbrella group,” a central command organization that would oversee the flourishing network of pro-Democrat nonprofit groups — known as “Section 527 Committees” — to ensure that their assets were being allocated to maximum political effect. All of the attendees liked Glantz’s idea, but none stepped forward to make it happen. The idea subsequently languished for eight months, until it was finally actualized with the formation of America Votes, a national coalition of grassroots, get-out-the-vote organizations.
Soon after Rosenthal’s 2002 departure from the AFL-CIO, he founded the Partnership for America’s Families (PAF) — a voter-registration, get-out-the-vote coalition aimed at mobilizing non-union, blue-collar workers in urban areas. AFSCME president Gerald McEntee, who was friendly with Rosenthal, joined PAF and provided $20 million of AFL-CIO money to fund it. He also helped Rosenthal raise an additional $10 million beyond that. But in 2003 McEntee resigned from PAF, charging that Rosenthal had been ineffective in reaching out to minorities. Before long, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (an AFL-CIO affiliate) accused Rosenthal of “paternalism” in his dealings with African Americans; meanwhile, another AFL-CIO affiliate, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, voiced its objection to a white man “leading the charge” on minority turf.
It was at this point that billionaire financier George Soros intervened, meeting with Rosenthal and a number of other political strategists, activists, and Democrat donors at his Long Island, New York beach house on July 17, 2003, to discuss how President Bush could be defeated in the 2004 election. Along with Rosenthal, other attendees included Open Society Institute director Morton Halperin; EMILY’s List founder and abortion-rights activist Ellen Malcolm; former Clinton chief-of-staff John Podesta; Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope; former Clinton speechwriters Jeremy Rosner and Robert Boorstin; and major Democrat donors such as Lewis and Dorothy Cullman, Robert Glaser, Peter Lewis, and Robert McKay. Soros was particularly enthusiastic about Rosenthal and Malcolm’s vision for a voter-outreach group that would encompass labor, pro-abortion, and environmentalist forces under one large umbrella, and he pledged $10 million to it, on the spot. Before the meeting adjourned, Soros also convinced the others in attendance to contribute an additional $12 million to the cause, bringing the overall total to $22 million. This money led directly to the August 2003 founding of a new political action committee called America Coming Together (ACT), whose official co-founders were Rosenthal, Ellen Malcolm, Gina Glantz, Carl Pope, Cecile Richards, and Andrew Stern. Rosenthal was named as the group’s CEO.
The following month, ACT announced that it planned to absorb Partnership for America’s Families, the group Rosenthal had formed in 2002. When PAF eventually folded in June 2005, it indeed became part of ACT. Under Rosenthal’s direction, ACT in 2004 spent more than $142 million to build the largest voter-mobilization campaign in Democrat Party history. In support of progressive candidates in 12 battleground states, ACT ran year-long organizing campaigns at the state, county, and precinct levels.
In 2005 Rosenthal co-founded two new entities: (a) The Organizing Group (TOG), a political consulting firm to help labor unions and progressive organizations identify potential Democratic voters, and (b) the Atlas Project, which provided TOG clients with “customized, in-depth strategic roadmaps to victory in … battleground states.”
After Democrats won control of both chambers of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections, Rosenthal was elated that “the tyranny imposed by years of GOP control has ended,” though he warned that “reining in the rogue [i.e., moderate] Democrats” would now be a vital priority. Toward that end, Rosenthal helped establish Working For Us and a related nonprofit component called They Work For Us, both of which aimed to: (a) hold Democrats “electorally accountable on economic and community security issues,” and (b) help elect “lawmakers who support a progressive political agenda”—so as to prevent moderates from gaining too much influence over the party. As Rosenthal put it, these entities “will be on the hunt for Democrats who undermine progressive economic values and oppose the House Democratic Leadership’s attempt to move America forward.” The “agenda that all REAL Democrats must support” (emphasis in original), said Rosenthal, included “promoting a living wage for all workers,” “improving access to health care” by means of government mandates rather than free-market principles, and “defending workers’ rights to organize.”
Rosenthal supports the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a measure that, if enacted, would deprive workers of the right to vote for or against the unionization of their workforce by means of a secret ballot. In 2009 Rosenthal said that EFCA would “strengthen America’s middle class by making it easier for workers to join together and bargain with their employers for better pay, benefits and working conditions.”
A longtime opponent of Voter ID laws, Rosenthal in January 2014 wrote that such statutes were symptomatic of a Republican “assault on voting rights” that aimed to disenfranchise “the rapidly increasing progressive majority in America—women, people of color, union members, LGBT and young voters.”
In a November 2014 piece which he wrote for the Huffington Post, Rosenthal urged progressives to help bankroll “a $200 million campaign for a New American Agenda” whose priorities included: hiking the minimum wage to $15 per hour; raising taxes on “corporations and the wealthy”; spending more money on public education; “making college more affordable” by means of federal subsidies; and massively increasing infrastructure expenditures for “rebuilding our roads, schools, bridges, highways, rail systems and airports.”
Further Reading: “The Shadow Party” (Parts I, II, & III, by David Horowitz and Richard Poe (Front Page Magazine, October 2004); “Steve Rosenthal” (OrganizingInc.com, HuffPost.com); “They Work for Us — And We Won’t Let Them Forget It!” (by Steve Rosenthal, 1-23-2007); “Employee Free Choice Act Gives Workers a Fair and Democratic Chance to Form Unions” (by Steve Rosenthal, 3-4-2009); “Secretaries of State: A Key Front in the Battle to Protect Voting Rights” (by Steve Rosenthal, 1-4-2014); “An Intervention for the Democratic Party” (by Steve Rosenthal, Huffington Post, 11-25-2014).