A top progressive company signed Rick Caruso as a customer. Its staff rebelled.

“We all work for this kind of company because we believe in the ideals, and for the CEO to receive a client who very clearly goes against that goal is a bit like a slap in the face to all the work. That we do and to all our other customers, ”said one of the employees who left.

Despite the staff uprising, which began early this year, the Aisle 518 Strategies has not dropped Caruso, and management remarked to employees who complained that they also have a list of unassailable progressive customers. CEO Tim Tagaris, who built Sen. Bernie Sanders‘(I-Vt.) Groundbreaking fundraising operations in 2016 prior to the launch of the firm, declined to comment specifically on the concerns raised by staff, including those who left.

“Those who know me know that I do not talk much to the press and prefer to keep my head down and do good work,” Tagaris said in a statement. “So I think, with respect, that I’m going to pass it on to one back and forth in the press with people who no longer work here and disagree with one or the other decision I’ve made.”

The frictions inside the Aisle 518 are the latest example of progressive employees hitting heads with their bosses over major organizational missions. And they underscore how workplace policies for many organizations in the progressive political ecosystem are becoming a more consuming part of the overall job.

In addition to Sanders, other Aisle 518 Strategies clients have included Nina Turner, a former Democratic congressional candidate in Ohio who co-chaired Sanders’ 2020 campaign and recently lost her primary election, and Senator Alessandra Biaggi of New York State, who is running in a primary election. run to set aside five seats incumbent Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney. The company has also performed work for Sens. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) And Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) And its California customers have included Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) And Governor Gavin Newsom.

But the decision to work for Caruso overshadowed the other names for some employees. A longtime Republican or a registered independent, Caruso has channeled more than $ 37 million of his own money into his campaign. He has promised to “clean up LA” and invest in police and public safety efforts and will meet the rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) At a re-election in November.

A former employee pointed to the company’s mission “to take on and defeat powerful business interests and the politicians who prioritize their needs,” a motto posted on Aisle 518’s website over a picture of a grinning Sanders. The person said that the work of Caruso indicated that “lining his [Tagaris’] pockets were more important than his promise to his employees that he should work on progressive work. “

“The younger employees of 518, the members of the union, came to work at 518 because of the promise that they would be able to support campaigns by people like Bernie Sanders, like Nina Turner,” the former employee said. “There was a really prevailing feeling among junior staff that if people like Sanders and Turner knew that 518 was working with Rick Caruso, they might feel some more apprehension about continuing their business relationship with Caruso.”

A union spokesman and Caruso’s campaign both declined to comment on this story.

According to Los Angeles revelations, Caruso’s campaign has paid about $ 5.2 million to Aisle 518 Strategies and incurred about $ 909,000 in debt for consulting, texting, digital advertising and other services. Aisle 518 has spent about $ 5.2 million on features like digital advertising on behalf of the campaign, the latest payment of which is dated June 1st. Tagaris said the amount spent on subcontractors was incomplete because the company has not yet been billed for some ads or paid for some of its suppliers.

Earlier this year, POLITICO reported a similar internal uprising at another leading progressive company, Authentic, in which employees complained about the company’s work for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). From March, the firm continued to work on behalf of the senator.

Robb Korinke, a Democratic strategist in Southern California, called the friction between employees and their bosses over mission and funding flows a “story as old as time.”

“It’s part of the development I’m thinking about working in politics,” Korinke said. “That’s how you balance the ideals you came to the business with with the business?”

Internal strife on the Aisle 518 appeared to begin in February when an employee learned about the company’s work for Caruso through the Monday.com work operating system and spread the news to others, according to the two former employees. After staff raised concerns about it to executives, Aisle convened 518 executives for an emergency meeting to discuss client acquisition. But the staff was unhappy.

After the meeting, the union drafted a letter expressing concern over the lack of transparency over how Caruso was hired as a client, urging management to drop him.

“Because of our deep commitment to the success of this company, its staff and our current customers, we do not believe that Rick Caruso is in line with our company’s mission because he is a billionaire whose past as a longtime Republican represents the company. , which we and many of our customers want to take care of, ”the union wrote according to a draft letter that POLITICO has seen.

Aisle 518 management responded in a letter, noting that employees could opt out of working on the Caruso account. The union reiterated its request that the candidate be dropped in yet another letter.

Tagaris then held a meeting with union members. According to concurrent notes taken at the meeting and obtained by POLITICO, an employee urged Tagaris to drop the campaign because it did not represent the company’s mission and reflected poorly on the company. Tagaris said he would not let go of Caruso as a client.

Tagaris also noted that his company lost money in 2021 and that he was “the only person who did not take a bonus,” according to the contemporary notes. He said others in his position would have sought to make cuts, adding that he had “blown my ass to keep this together.”

Tagaris told employees that Caruso “would not campaign in a way that would at least embarrass us compared to other campaigns,” according to the notes. “[H]e’s campaign as Karen Bass … asks for more police. “

In terms of transparency and confidentiality in client acquisition, Tagaris also mentioned the CEO of a rival progressive company, Authentic, who “comes to me that we are trying to poach his people.” Authentics CEO Mike Nellis said he could not recall such a conversation.

After this meeting, Tagaris apologized for shouting employees by name in front of their peers and “for being more direct than probably anyone here has ever seen me get,” according to a copy of the message reissued in the union Slack.

The union met again several times to discuss the next steps on the Caruso account, and employees conducted an opinion poll to assess possible next steps. Out of about a dozen responses, 38.5 percent of employees said they wanted management to remove Caruso as a client, 15.4 percent said it should issue a public statement saying the union did not support Caruso. The remaining responses were divided between demanding more transparency from management around client acquisition and holding a meeting to discuss how the client acquisition process fit in with the union contract.

According to former employees, only two or three others, besides Tagaris, are currently working on the Caruso account.

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