Lincoln Project Loses Shine After John Weaver Allegations, Transparency Issues

The Lincoln Project is facing difficult questions and strong criticism after a series of reports about the group, which was established by Republicans opposed to former President Donald Trump.

The conservative political action committee (PAC) has produced a large number of ads attacking Trump and his allies.

Its approach attracted Trump opponents from across the political spectrum, but sexual harassment allegations against co-founder John Weaver and emerging questions about its spending have tarnished the group's reputation.

More than 20 men have said Weaver sent them unsolicited sexually explicit messages—allegations that became public at the end of last month.

The leaders of the Lincoln Project knew about the accusations against Weaver last summer, according to leaked communications reported by The Washington Blade.

A payroll employee reportedly sent an email about the allegations to former Lincoln Project member Ron Steslow in June 2020, according to the Associated Press.

This contradicts the group's claim that it was unaware of the allegations against Weaver until last month.

The Lincoln Project's troubles have been compounded by a public conflict with co-founder Jennifer Horn, who said she was stepping down last week because of Weaver's "grotesque and inappropriate behavior" and "longstanding deceptions."

The PAC claimed that Horn had made demands for large sums of money, including a $250,000 signing bonus. On Thursday the Lincoln Project's official Twitter account shared what appeared to be private Twitter messages between Horn and Amanda Becker, a journalist with 19th News.

It is not clear how the Lincoln Project obtained the private messages. It deleted the tweets but not before co-founder George Conway, who left the group last August, weighed in.

"This looks on its face to be a violation of federal law and should be taken down immediately," Conway tweeted. The violation would be potentially accessing another person's direct messages without permission, as New York Magazine's Yashar Ali explained on Twitter.

The Lincoln Project today released the following statement.

— The Lincoln Project (@ProjectLincoln) February 12, 2021

The Lincoln Project announced on Thursday that it would "retain a best-in-class outside professional" to examine Weaver's time with the organisation and "establish both accountability and best practices going forward for The Lincoln Project," according to AP.

It is also encouraging anyone who entered into a non-disclosure agreement with the group to "contact the Lincoln Project for a release." Several former employees have publicly asked to be released from their NDAs, reported The New York Times.

The Lincoln Project's statement said recent news stories about the group were "filled with inaccuracies and incorrect information," but acknowledged: "There is a central truth in all of them that must be reckoned with and that is John Weaver's appalling conduct and the abuse he inflicted on people."

There are also questions about the group's finances. The Lincoln Project has raised $90 million since its inception but just $27 million has been spent on TV and online advertisements, according to figures from the ad tracking firm Kantar/CMAG cited by AP.

The remainder of the money went on production costs, overheads and fees paid to consulting firms controlled by members of the Lincoln Project. However, it is not clear exactly how the money was spent. Some members may have been paid as subcontractors, allowing them to avoid disclosure.

"We fully comply with the law," said co-founder Steve Schmidt. "The Lincoln Project will be delighted to open its books for audit immediately after the Trump campaign and all affiliated super-PACs do so, explaining the cash flow of the nearly $700 million that flowed through their organizations controlled by Brad Parscale and Jared Kushner."

As AP reported, Schmidt purchased a house in Kamas, Utah for $1.4 million last year while Weaver paid $313,000 in back taxes to the IRS in October. The payment related to taxes owed since 2011.

Campaign disclosures also show that $27 million was paid to a consulting firm owned by co-founder Reed Galen and a further $21 million to a firm run by Steslow. The group's donors, who include at least 15 billionaires, may now be questioning how their money was spent.

The Lincoln Project played a prominent role in the 2020 election through sometimes viral ads criticizing Trump and taking aim at his allies. The group and its founders celebrated Trump's defeat, but there are now major questions about the PAC's own future.

The Lincoln Project has been asked for comment on this article.

A Person Visits the Lincoln Memorial
A man visits the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on January 7, the day after the storming of the Capitol. The Lincoln Project, named for the president, is facing serious questions about its future. Joe Raedle/Getty Images