A prominent anti-Trump Republican group is facing calls for disbandment, after being rocked by allegations of sexual harassment against one of its founders and questions about its finances.
Project Lincoln raised nearly $ 90 million to help defeat Donald Trump and was applauded for running eye-catching and devious ads during the presidential election campaign, which called his sanity and the loyalty of those around him into question.
But now former allies are questioning whether Project Lincoln can survive following reports that John Weaver, a longtime GOP strategist and founder of the group, has harassed young men – including one allegedly underage – by SMS and social media.
The allegations, which have been boiling for weeks, have resulted in a period of internal strife within the Lincoln Project amid accusations that some of its executives knew the nature of the accusations before they were made public.
The group has also been accused of using nondisclosure agreements to prevent staff from discussing the charges in public.
Weaver apologized to “the men I made uncomfortable with my messages”, admitting they were “inappropriate” but viewed them as “consensual mutual conversations at the time.”
The real question of sustainability comes down to whether they can restore trust with their donors
In a statement on Monday, the Lincoln Project said it would release “staff and former employees from the confidentiality provisions of their employment contracts to discuss their working environment.”
Meanwhile, the group wondered why more than half of the $ 90 million it raised went to companies associated with some of the founders and how that money was spent afterwards.
The Lincoln Project announced Monday it has hired law firm Paul Hastings “to investigate allegations of inappropriate behavior by John Weaver as part of a comprehensive review of our operations and culture.”
A day later, George Conway – the Republican lawyer married to former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway and co-founder of the Lincoln Project – called on the group to disband.
In a tweet, Conway – who had previously left the group – wrote: “Stop it already. . . It’s finish.”
Jennifer Horn, co-founder of the Lincoln Project and one of the few older women associated with the group, issued a scathing resignation letter last week.
Of the eight founding members of the group, only three remain. Steve Schmidt, one of the most important founders, announced he would resign from the board last week.
Kurt Bardella, a former senior adviser to the project, who also backed down last week and called on the group to disband, said her fate would depend on the outcome of the investigation and the reforms she undertakes in response.
“The real question of sustainability comes down to whether they can restore trust with their donors,” Bardella said. “In the end, time will tell if this can work.”
During the 2020 election cycle, the project received large donations from billionaire Democratic donors, including hedge fund manager Stephen Mandel and California philanthropist Gordon Getty, who each gave it $ 1 million, as well as David Geffen. , the co-founder of DreamWorks who donated $ 500,000.
However, much of his money came from donors, many of whom were Liberals, who gave small contributions.
Well-known Democratic super-political action committees such as Senate Majority PAC, the Democratic Party’s main fundraising PAC for Senate candidate funding, have joined in on the project.
Yet of the nearly $ 90 million the project raised between its founding in 2019 and the 2020 election, barely $ 27 million was spent on advertising. Meanwhile, groups of consultants with financial ties to some of its founders have been awarded contracts worth more than $ 1 million each, according to documents filed with the US Federal Election Commission.
In the statement released Monday, the Lincoln Project said 80% of its “funds go to contact with voters and content production” and that its “historic results speak for themselves.”
The Lincoln Project did not respond to a request for further comment from the FT. Weaver did not respond to a request for comment.
Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor who backed Trump, said, “They sold their Republican credentials for progressive money. And now that Trump has been removed from office, progressives have thrown them under the bus. It’s not surprising.
Former supporters of Project Lincoln say they fear its current problems will overshadow its successful campaign tactics, which could prove useful for Democrats in the next election.
“For all the things Project Lincoln could have done wrong, there are things it did right. . . This would serve Democrats to identify[them]. . . and add them to their toolbox, ”said Bardella.
Bardella said that the “tone, tenor, [and] speed of rapid response “were all” ingredients “the Democratic Party should adopt in its own campaigns.
Tim Miller, the former political director of Republican Voters Against Trump, another anti-Trump group, said the Lincoln Project ads resonated with many Democrats “who felt it was more convincing to hear the criticisms of the right”.
“I think a lot of Democratic voters were like, ‘I want someone who’s gonna tear [Trump’s] face off, ”Miller added.
The Project Lincoln unrest comes in the midst of what Miller describes as a “kind of outbreak of the Never Trump movement.”
He said some members of the movement were conservatives who never liked Trump while others were former Republican moderates who were “functionally Democratic voters now.”
Regardless of the specific problems of the Lincoln Project, a schism between these two groups was always inevitable once Trump left the White House, Miller added: “There will always be a split.”
Whit Ayres, a GOP consultant, said: “Project Lincoln is basically going after all Republicans, which is why they are mostly supported by Democratic donors. It is difficult to see a role for this approach in a future Republican party.
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