Political Party/527

Lincoln Project

Website:

lincolnproject.us/

Location:

Washington, DC

Formation:

2019

Type:

Anti-Trump super PAC

The Lincoln Project is a Super PAC opposed to the reelection of President Donald Trump and Republican Party candidates that the group claims are his allies. From January through July 2020, the Lincoln project has released 66 video advertisements, with 17 released in July alone. [1]

The Lincoln Project was founded by eight current and former Republican political operatives: George Conway III, Reed Galen, Jennifer Horn, Rick Wilson, Mike Madrid, Ron Steslow, Steve Schmidt, and John Weaver. Critics have questioned the motives of many of these individuals: Conway reportedly has a longstanding personal feud with Trump, Schmidt and Weaver have been accused of engaging in political gamesmanship for publicity, and companies connected to Galen and Steslow received lucrative contracts from the Lincoln Project.

As of July 2020, the Lincoln Project has raised almost $19.5 million since its founding in November 2019. [2] Open Secrets has criticized the organization for various financial irregularities, including purposefully obscuring the recipients of its expenditures.

Though the Lincoln Project has an unusually high rate of small donors, many of its large funders are wealthy donors to Democratic candidates and PACs, including billionaire hedge fund manager Stephen Mandel, Silicon Valley billionaire Ron Conway, and Walmart heir Christy Walton. In addition, the Lincoln Project has paid employees and consultants with ties to the Democratic Party.

New York Times Op-ed

On December 17, 2019, four of the Lincoln Project’s eight founders published an op-ed in the New York Times entitled, “We Are Republicans, and We Want Trump Defeated,” announcing the group’s founding and intentions. The op-ed authors self-identified as conservative or classically liberal and claimed that their efforts transcend partisan politics and ideology. [3]

The op-ed condemned President Trump’s “corruption” and “corrosive nature” and called upon all Americans to oppose him for the sake of the Constitution, rule of law, and “American character,” with patriotism and the survival of America at stake. Though no specific policies are cited, the authors accuse Trump of abandoning conservatism, and declare their target audience to be conservatives, Republicans, and Republican-leaning independent voters in swing states. [4]

Founders

The Lincoln Project lists eight founders, all of whom are current or former members of the Republican Party. [5]

George Conway III, husband of Trump White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, is a conservative attorney who was a member of the Republican Party until 2018 when he switched his party registration to “unaffiliated.” Despite his wife’s connection to the president, Conway has had worsening relations with Trump since his election, which Business Insider has characterized as a “feud.” Conway was initially a Trump supporter and was considered for a Department of Justice role, but withdrew himself from consideration.  Afterwards, he became an aggressive public critic of President Trump. [6]

Reed Galen is a Republican political consultant who worked on the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and at the Departments of the Treasury and Homeland Security. In 2006, Galen was deputy campaign manager for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (R-CA) successful gubernatorial campaign in California. In 2007, he worked for then-U.S. Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) presidential campaign. [7] In January 2018, Reed founded Summit Strategic Communications, a digital advertising company based out of Park City, Utah. [8] In July 2018, Galen wrote an op-ed for NBC news urging “Never Trump” Republicans to abandon the Republican Party and either support third parties or form a new conservative party rather than join the Democrats. [9]

Jennifer Horn is a former Republican Party candidate and official. Horn twice ran for Representative of New Hampshire’s second congressional district, losing the general election in 2008 and the Republican primary in 2010. Afterward, Horn served as chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party. In 2017, Horn joined the national board of directors of the Log Cabin Republicans, a national right-leaning pro-LBGT organization. [10] Having endorsed Republican presidential candidates John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney (R-MA) in 2012, the group did not endorse Trump in 2016. However, in August 2019, the Log Cabin Republicans endorsed President Trump’s reelection, prompting Horn to resign from her position. Also in 2019, Horn served as campaign manager for Bill Weld’s (R-MA) unsuccessful Republican primary challenge against Trump. [11]

Rick Wilson is a long-time Republican strategist who started his career in 1988 working for Connie Mack’s senatorial campaign and then on Vice President George Bush’s presidential campaign. He was then appointed to a position at the Department of Defense. In 1997, Wilson worked on Rudy Giuliani’s campaign for Mayor of New York City. [12] Wilson became an outspoken opponent of Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign, suggesting Trump was backed by “white supremacists and neo-Nazis and frog meme idiots.” [13] In August 2018, Wilson published the book Everything Trump Touches Dies: A Republican Strategist Gets Real About the Worst President Ever. [14]

Mike Madrid is a Republican strategist who specialized in outreach to Latino voters. In 2000, he served as public affairs director for the League of California Cities and as a strategic advisor to the California Redevelopment Association. He later served as press secretary for the California Assembly Republican leader and as a political director for the California Republican Party. He is currently an adjunct lecturer on race, class, and partisanship at the University of Southern California. [15]

Ron Steslow is a Republican strategist who started his career as a campaign coordinator for the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2007. In 2009, he was the campaign manager for David Knudson’s (R-SD) unsuccessful gubernatorial run. He then joined the unsuccessful Senate campaign of Linda McMahon (R-CT) who would later join the  Trump administration as head of the Small Business Administration. In 2015, Steslow was the digital director for Carly Fiorina’s presidential campaign. Also in 2015, Steslow founded Megaphone[16]  (also known as Citizen Super PAC), which spent over $2.5 million in the 2016 election cycle, and another $700,000 in the 2018 cycle, almost exclusively supporting Republicans. [17] Since 2018, Steslow has been the chief strategist for the SAM Party, a new political party made up of Republican and Democratic dissidents. Steslow also founded and has been the president of Tusk Digital, a marketing company with little online presence, since 2011. [18]

Steve Schmidt is a longtime Republican campaign strategist best known for selecting and managing then-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R) as John McCain’s running mate in his unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign. Since 1995, Schmidt has worked on the campaigns of Will Scott (R-KY), Tim Leslie (R-CA), Matt Fong (R-CA), Lamar Alexander (R-CA), and Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA). He was also the communications director of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in 2000, and the spokesman and then communications director of the National Republican Congressional Committee from 2001-2002. Then he worked in a variety of advisory roles at the White House for President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Schmidt was a critic of Trump in 2016, and in 2018 he renounced the Republican Party entirely, calling it “corrupt, indecent, and immoral.” [19] In 2019, Schmidt was hired by Starbucks billionaire Howard Schultz to manage a potential Independent presidential campaign that never came to fruition. Vanity Fair ran an article questioning Schmidt’s motives and positing that he was using Schultz for money and a boost in public profile. [20]

John Weaver is a Texas-based Republican strategist. In the 1980s and 90s, he worked for Republican Congressional candidates Phil Gramm (R-TX), Tom Loeffler (R-TX), and Bill Clemens (R-TX). He then served as executive director of the Republican Party of Texas and organized George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaigns in Texas. Later, Weaver managed John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign and initially led McCain’s 2008 Republican primary efforts before being ousted by the Arizona Senator. In 2012 he was a strategist for former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman’s presidential campaign. [21]

Politico reported that Weaver privately spoke with a Donald Trump campaign advisor and encouraged him to run for president. . Weaver denies ever “explicitly pitching the [Trump] campaign,” and he ended up as the chief strategist for then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s (R) presidential run where he was an outspoken opponent of Trump. [22]

In May 2019, it was revealed that Weaver signed a $350,000 contract with a Russian nuclear energy subsidiary to lobby against economic sanctions against Russia. Due to public pressure, Weaver backed out of the contract. [23]

Funding

In the first nine months of its existence, the Lincoln Project raised almost $19.5 million in funds. As of May 2020, 59% of its funds had come from small donors making donations of $200 or less, an unusually high rate for a Super PAC. [24]

Some donors have given larger sums to the Lincoln project, including $50,000 from Silicon Valley billionaire Ron Conway,[25] an opponent of Trump who has given millions to both Republican and Democratic candidates since 2016. [26][27] Hedge fund investor Andrew Redleaf, who has pledged to vote “blue no matter who” has contributed $25,000. [28][29] Walmart heir Christy Walton gave another $20,000; she also contributed over $100,000 to a super PAC formed by former Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper. [30]

The Lincoln Project’s largest contributor to-date is billionaire hedge fund manager Stephen Mandel, who has given $1 million. [31] Though not outspoken about his politics, Mandel and his wife are major donors to Democratic-aligned groups: They donated $5 million to Priorities USA Action, the largest Democratic Super PAC;[32] over $200,000 to a Hillary Clinton-supporting Super PAC in 2016; and hundreds of thousands more to other Democratic PACs and candidates. [33]

Expenditures

As of July 2020, the Lincoln Project had spent over $8.5 million. Almost $3 million has been spent to oppose President Trump and $723,000 was used to support Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Roughly another $1 million has been spent on opposing Republican legislators, including $460,000 against Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and almost $200,000 against Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA). In addition, $130,000 has been spent in support of Democratic senatorial candidate Steve Bullock (D-MT). [34]

Financial Controversies

Critics have accused the Lincoln Project of numerous controversial financial practices, including purposefully obscuring its expenditures, spending relatively little of its funds on its stated goals, and of funneling money towards organizations owned by its founders. [35][36]

As of July 23, 2020, the Lincoln Project has paid Tusk Digital, a digital marketing company founded and run by co-founder Ron Steslow, $1,140,313 across 22 payments. During the same timeframe, the organization paid Summit Strategic Communications, run by co-founder Reed Galen, $1,134,523 across 32 payments. As of July 23, 2020, the Lincoln Project has steered about 25% of its total spending toward these two groups. [37]

Ordinarily, PACs pay vendors directly and all transactions are publicly recorded in accordance with FEC regulations. But with Tusk Digital and Summit Strategic Communications handling much of the Lincoln Project’s expenditure, there are no public disclosures of the final recipients of funds. [38]

Open Secrets has also expressed concerns about the unusually high production costs of the Lincoln Project’s advertisements. They found that of the $364,000 spent by Tusk and Summit on political ads opposing Trump and other Republicans, only half was spent on the buying and placing the advertisements, while the other half was spent on ad production. For one ad targeting Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ), only 25% of the Lincoln project’s $19,000 expenditure went to ad placement. [39]

Democratic Party Connections

Despite ostensibly representing conservatives and classical liberals disaffected with the Trump-era leadership of the Republican Party, the Lincoln Project has numerous connections to Democratic operatives. [40]

The Lincoln Project has engaged in “fundraising consulting services” from the Katz Watson Group, which was founded by Franz Katz Watson, the former national financial director of the Democratic National Committee. The Katz Watson Group has also provided services to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the U.S. Senate campaign of former U.S. Rep. Beto O’ Rourke (D-TX). The Lincoln Project has also paid Elrod Strategies, a firm run by Adrienne Elrod, the former director of strategic communications for Hillary for America. Zachary Czajkowski, who has worked for President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and other Democratic politicians, has also been paid as a consultant by the Lincoln Project. [41]

Likewise, the Lincoln Project’s communication director is Keith Edwards, who has worked exclusively for Democrats over the last few years. In 2018, Edwards was the campaign manager for Democratic New York Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell (D-Manhattan), and then worked as special assistant to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan). In 2019, Edwards was a press lead for Michael Bloomberg’s Democratic presidential campaign. [42]

References

  1. “Videos.” Lincoln Project. Accessed July 24, 2020. https://lincolnproject.us/video/. ^
  2. “The Lincoln Project.” FEC. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.fec.gov/data/committee/C00725820/?tab=summary/. ^
  3. Conway III, George T.; Schmidt, Steve; Weaver, John; Wilson, Rick. “We Are Republicans, and We Want Trump Defeated.” New York Times. December 17, 2019. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/17/opinion/lincoln-project.html. ^
  4. Conway III, George T.; Schmidt, Steve; Weaver, John; Wilson, Rick. “We Are Republicans, and We Want Trump Defeated.” New York Times. December 17, 2019. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/17/opinion/lincoln-project.html. ^
  5. “Founders.” Lincoln Project. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://lincolnproject.us/team/. ^
  6. Goggin, Benjamin; Cranley, Ellen. “A history of the times Kellyanne Conway’s Husband has roasted Trump.” Business Insider. December 3, 2019. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.businessinsider.com/george-conway-trump-tweets-kellyanne-2018-10?IR=T. ^
  7. “Bio.” Mic. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.mic.com/profile/reed-galen-16192407. ^
  8. “Reed Galen.” LinkedIn. Accessed July 24, 2020. https://www.linkedin.com/in/reedgalen/. ^
  9. Galen, Reed. “Never-Trumper Republicans should leave the GOP. But they need to think twice before following James Comey’s lead.” NBC news. July 18, 2018. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/republicans-against-trump-should-leave-gop-they-shouldn-t-automatically-ncna892301. ^
  10. Behrmann, Savannah. “LGBT Group Board Member Resigns After the GOP Group Endorses Trump.” USA Today. August 20, 2019. Accessed July 24, 2020. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/08/20/jennifer-horn-log-cabin-republicans-board-member-resigns-group-endorses-trump/2061742001/ ^
  11. Krakow, Morgan. “Log Cabin Republicans endorsed Trump, so Jennifer Horn resigned.” Fosters.com. August 21, 2019. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.fosters.com/news/20190821/log-cabin-republicans-endorsed-trump-so-jennifer-horn-resigned. ^
  12. Ritholtz, Barry. “MIB: Rick Wilson, GOP Strategist.” The Big Picture. December 1, 2018 Accessed July 23, 2020. https://ritholtz.com/2018/12/mib-rick-wilson/. ^
  13. Hains, Tim. “Rick Wilson: Donald Trump’s Base Consists of Neo-Nazis and ‘Frog Meme Idiots.’” Real Clear Politics. September 21, 2016. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2016/09/21/rick_wilson_donald_trumps_base_are_neo-nazis_and_frog_meme_idiots.html. ^
  14. “Everything Trump Touches Dies: A Republican Strategist gets Real about the Worst President Ever.” Amazon. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.amazon.com/Everything-Trump-Touches-Dies-Republican/dp/1982103124. ^
  15. “Mike Madrid.” Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Accessed July 24, 2020. https://www.igs.berkeley.edu/people/mike-madrid-0 ^
  16. “Ron Steslow.” Linkedin. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.linkedin.com/in/ronsteslow/. ^
  17. “Megaphone PAC.” Open Secrets. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/lookup2.php?strID=C00569517&cycle=2018. ^
  18. “Ron Steslow.” Linkedin. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.linkedin.com/in/ronsteslow/. ^
  19. Chokshi, Niraj. “Steve Schmidt, Longtime G.O.P Strategist, quits ‘Corrupt’ and ‘Immoral’ Party.” New York Times. June 20, 2018. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/20/us/politics/party-of-trump-steve-schmidt.html. ^
  20. Smith, Chris. “’He’s a Mr. Burns Foil’: Is Steve Schmidt Using Howard Schultz as a Money Job – or for a Centrist Fever Dream.” Vanity Fair. January 31, 2019. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2019/01/is-steve-schmidt-using-schultz-as-a-money-job-or-for-a-fever-dream. ^
  21. Zengerle, Jason. “Winning isn’t Everything.” Politico. November/December 2015. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/10/john-weaver-consultant-213273. ^
  22. Zengerle, Jason. “Winning isn’t Everything.” Politico. November/December 2015. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/10/john-weaver-consultant-213273. ^
  23. “Top Kasich adviser agrees to lobby for Russians – then backs out.” Columbus Dispatch. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.dispatch.com/news/20190516/top-kasich-adviser-agrees-to-lobby-for-russians—-then-backs-out. ^
  24. Evers-Hillstrom. Karl. “Lincoln Project capitalizes on Trump’s rage as its spending comes under scrutiny.” Open Secrets. May 7, 2020. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2020/05/lincoln-project-capitalizes-on-trump-rage/. ^
  25. Evers-Hillstrom. Karl. “Lincoln Project capitalizes on Trump’s rage as its spending comes under scrutiny.” Open Secrets. May 7, 2020. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2020/05/lincoln-project-capitalizes-on-trump-rage/. ^
  26. Schleifer, Theodore. “Ten big Silicon Valley money players behind this November’s U.S. midterm elections.” Vox. August 20, 2018. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.vox.com/2018/8/20/17693048/silicon-valley-tech-donors-midterms-2018-democrats-donald-trump-list. ^
  27. Redmond, Tim. “Ron Conway money helps GOP effort to keep control of Congress.” 48 hills. May 31, 2018. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://48hills.org/2018/05/conway-money-republican-congress/. ^
  28. Evers-Hillstrom. Karl. “Lincoln Project capitalizes on Trump’s rage as its spending comes under scrutiny.” Open Secrets. May 7, 2020. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2020/05/lincoln-project-capitalizes-on-trump-rage/ ^
  29. Baker, Nathaniel. “Hedge Fund Founder Andrew Refleaf Talks Politics, Says He’ll Vote ‘Blue No Matter Who’ – Even Sanders.” Forbes. February 18, 2020. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanielbaker/2020/02/18/hedge-fund-founder-andrew-redleaf-talks-politics-says-hell-vote-blue-no-matter-who–even-sanders/#23683c2e4c71. ^
  30. Evers-Hillstrom. Karl. “Lincoln Project capitalizes on Trump’s rage as its spending comes under scrutiny.” Open Secrets. May 7, 2020. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2020/05/lincoln-project-capitalizes-on-trump-rage/. ^
  31. “The Lincoln Project.” FEC. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.fec.gov/data/committee/C00725820/?tab=summary/. ^
  32. “Mandel, Stephen Frank, Jr. & Susan Z.: Donor Details.” Open Secrets. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.opensecrets.org/outsidespending/donor_detail.php?cycle=2016&id=U0000000053&type=I&super=N&name=Mandel%2C+Stephen+Frank+Jr.+%26+Susan+Z.. ^
  33. “Steven Mandel Political Campaign Contributions 2016 Election Cycle.” CampaignMoney.com. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.campaignmoney.com/political/contributions/stephen-mandel.asp?cycle=16. ^
  34. “The Lincoln Project.” FEC. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.fec.gov/data/committee/C00725820/?tab=summary/. ^
  35. Evers-Hillstrom. Karl. “Lincoln Project capitalizes on Trump’s rage as its spending comes under scrutiny.” Open Secrets. May 7, 2020. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2020/05/lincoln-project-capitalizes-on-trump-rage/. ^
  36. Stampley, Steve. “The Grifter Project.” National Review. July 20, 2020. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/07/lincoln-project-election-season-grift/. ^
  37. “The Lincoln Project.” FEC. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.fec.gov/data/committee/C00725820/?tab=summary/. ^
  38. Stampley, Steve. “The Grifter Project.” National Review. July 20, 2020. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/07/lincoln-project-election-season-grift/. ^
  39. Evers-Hillstrom. Karl. “Lincoln Project capitalizes on Trump’s rage as its spending comes under scrutiny.” Open Secrets. May 7, 2020. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2020/05/lincoln-project-capitalizes-on-trump-rage/. ^
  40. Stampley, Steve. “The Grifter Project.” National Review. July 20, 2020. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/07/lincoln-project-election-season-grift/. ^
  41. Stampley, Steve. “The Grifter Project.” National Review. July 20, 2020. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/07/lincoln-project-election-season-grift/. ^
  42. “Keith Edwards.” LinkedIn. Accessed July 24, 2020. https://www.linkedin.com/in/keith-edwards-46815827/. ^
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Lincoln Project


Washington, DC