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 released 66 video advertisements, with 17 released in July alone. 
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. Despite the group’s leadership consisting of current or former Republicans and the group announcing itself as aimed to persuade Republican-aligned voters not to support the Republican Party, FEC records show that the Lincoln Project banks with the Service Employees International Union-owned Amalgamated Bank, and the Washington Free Beacon reported that it has done so since its founding.
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. The organization became embroiled in controversy in early 2021 after a reporter for the American Conservative, and later reporters with other media outlets including the New York Times, alleged that numerous young men seeking work in politics had received apparent solicitations of a romantic nature from Lincoln Project co-founder John Weaver.
As of July 2020, the Lincoln Project had raised almost $19.5 million since its founding in November 2019.  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. In November 2020, Federal Elections Commission filings showed that Majority Forward and Senate Majority PAC, Super PACs affiliated with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), had contributed to Lincoln Project.
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. 
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. 
Campaigning for Democrats Post-Trump
After multiple news outlets projected that Donald Trump would lose his reelection, the Lincoln Project announced a new goal: “to defeat Trumpism.” It endorsed Democratic candidate Jon Ossof in the Georgia Senate run-off election while criticizing Republican incumbent David Perdue for his alignment with “Trumpism” and his handling of the COVID-19 response. 
In response to the Trump campaign’s lawsuits regarding the 2020 general election, the Lincoln Project announced a “multiplatform campaign hammering Jones Day and other firms” that were “facilitating” the lawsuit. It justified the advertising campaign because it claimed those involved were “attempting to undermine the outcome of a just and fair election.” 
On November 10, 2020, the Lincoln Project tweeted out the names, emails, and phone numbers of two attorneys representing Trump and his campaign in their challenging of the official results of the Pennsylvania election.  In a series of tweets following that, the Lincoln Project advertised various methods of harassing these attorneys. The Lincoln Project also went after the clients of the law firms, hoping to deplete the firms of their funds. The tweets were quickly deleted as it was pointed out such actions could get the Lincoln Project sued for “Tortious Interference with a Business Relationship.” 
On March 9, 2021, the Lincoln Project released an ad in support of Biden nominees Vanita Gupta and Kristen Clarke, which linked the opposition they have faced from conservative media to sexism and a culture that silences women. The ad called on senators to confirm both women and overcome “double standards,” implying that the only thing that stands between them and their confirmation would be mere discrimination based on sex. 
The Lincoln Project lists eight founders, all of whom are current or former members of the Republican Party. 
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. 
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.  In January 2018, Reed founded Summit Strategic Communications, a digital advertising company based out of Park City, Utah.  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. 
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.  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. 
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.  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.”  In August 2018, Wilson published the book Everything Trump Touches Dies: A Republican Strategist Gets Real About the Worst President Ever. 
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. 
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 (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.  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. 
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.”  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. 
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. 
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. 
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. 
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. 
Some donors have given larger sums to the Lincoln project, including $50,000 from Silicon Valley billionaire Ron Conway, an opponent of Trump who has given millions to both Republican and Democratic candidates since 2016.  Hedge fund investor Andrew Redleaf, who has pledged to vote “blue no matter who” has contributed $25,000.  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. 
The Lincoln Project’s largest contributor to-date is billionaire hedge fund manager Stephen Mandel, who has given $1 million.  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; over $200,000 to a Hillary Clinton-supporting Super PAC in 2016; and hundreds of thousands more to other Democratic PACs and candidates. 
In February 2021, the Washington Free Beacon revealed that some of the Lincoln Project’s major donors have connections to top Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. The Lincoln Project received donations from Schumer-aligned “dark money” outfit Majority Forward and the Senate Majority PAC, and went on to make attack ads against Republican Senate candidates, helping Schumer and the Democrats take control of the Senate. The group of anti-Trump veteran Republican consultants also share a Washington D.C. post office box with left-wing groups Forward Majority and Defend the Vote. Additionally, the Free Beacon revealed that the organization’s custodian of records, Melissa Nissen, also works as the treasurer for Forward Majority. 
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). 
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. 
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. 
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. 
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. 
John Weaver Grooming Controversy
In February 2021, the Lincoln Project cut ties with Weaver amid accusations that Weaver had used his position to prey on young men, including one boy as young as 14 years old. The Lincoln Project denied having any knowledge of the accusations prior to a New York Times’ expose on Weaver, but in February 2021, the Washington Blade claimed to have obtained electronic communications disputing the group’s denials. The Blade claimed to have obtained messages between Madrid and one of Weaver’s accusers, as well as messages between Madrid and former Lincoln Project communications director Keith Edwards discussing the accusations. The Blade declined to publish the messages, citing the need to protect the “confidentiality of sources.” 
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. 
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. 
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. 
In November 2020, Federal Elections Commission filings showed that Majority Forward and Senate Majority PAC, Super PACs affiliated with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), had contributed to Lincoln Project.