It’s one thing to object to candidates of (ostensibly) your own party on principled or even petty political grounds. It’s quite another to employ the ideas and vocabulary of those with whom you have fundamental philosophical disagreements.
The Lincoln Project’s founders may have written, “Our many policy differences with national Democrats remain,” but they have yet to demonstrate one.
To date, the group has spent nearly $100,000 for “fundraising consulting services” with the Katz Watson Group. That firm’s founder, Fran Katz Watson, is a lifelong Democratic operative who previously worked as the national finance director for the Democrat National Committee.
The firm’s long list of left-wing clients includes the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Beto for Senate.
In addition, the Lincoln Project has spent large sums contracting with Elrod Strategies, the firm run by Adrienne Elrod, former director of strategic communications for Hillary for America, and has paid Zachary Czajkowski handsomely for “political strategy.”
Czajkowski’s resume includes work for Barack Obama, former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, Hillary Clinton, and disgraced former California representative Katie Hill.
If a group of unemployed strategists were looking to shape a persuasive center-right critique of Trump and his allies, these are not the talents they’d turn to. If, on the other hand, the aim was to open up anti-Trump wallets on the left, they couldn’t pick a better team.
The Lincoln Project’s communications director is Keith Edwards. He previously worked on communications for Mike Bloomberg’s run in the Democratic presidential primary and as a staffer for New York City Council speaker Corey Johnson, also a Democrat.
Johnson is on record as trying to kick a Christian relief organization, @SamaritansPurse, out of New York City, after its staff set up a field hospital in Central Park at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Never mind that these volunteers were risking their lives to help others; Johnson alleged that its presence was “painful” to “all New Yorkers who care deeply about the LGBTQ community.”
For a group that makes a big deal out of transparency and morality, @ProjectLincoln has steered roughly 50% of its total spending, including almost all of its independent expenditures, through just two firms: Summit Strategic Communications and TUSK Digital.
Summit Strategic Communications is run by the Lincoln Project’s treasurer, @reedgalen. TUSK Digital is run by former Lincoln Project adviser @RonSteslow
Through July 13, the Lincoln Project paid at least $5.6 million to Summit and TUSK as independent expenditures against Donald Trump and GOP senators and for Joe Biden and Montana governor Steve Bullock, a Democrat running for the Senate.
Save for $72,000 paid to Getty Images, that is the entirety of the Lincoln Project’s independent expenditures. Since the money goes directly to Summit and TUSK, no one outside of those two firms knows the vendors they use to buy ads, create visuals, do direct mailings, etc.
By contrast, other super PACs, including America First Action, which backs Trump, and Unite the Country, which backs Biden, pay their vendors directly, allowing donors and the public to see exactly where the money gets spent.
Since disclosure of spending on subcontracted third parties is not required, it is impossible to say how much of this money was actually spent by Summit and TUSK and how much the Lincoln Project founders pocketed or paid out to other principals.
For example, per Open Secrets, the group recorded an independent expenditure against Arizona senator Martha McSally, with video production costs paid to Summit totaling over $14,000 — an exorbitant amount for a 90-second video made entirely from stock photos and news clips.
Compare this to a seasoned political consultant (interviewed on background for this story) who ran a statewide race and hired a film crew to meet in a remote area to shoot for two days.
The team created enough content for a short biographical video, two 30-second ads, two 15-second ads, and two six-second bumper clips for a total cost of $15,000. This calls into question how much Summit pocketed versus how much it actually paid its subcontractors.
The group’s intentional lack of transparency, combined with the nearly $20M it’s hauled in to date, raises valid questions about the potential for financial grift.
Meanwhile, the @ProjectLincoln continues to raise funds from left-leaning partisans by advancing Democratic narratives in an effort to defeat centrist Republicans — an intellectually disingenuous gambit at best.
Earlier this year, the group introduced the tagline, “Our mission is to defeat Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box in 2020.” Another line, often attributed to P. T. Barnum, might be more honest: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
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