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Lincoln Project expands GOP target list, winning Trump ire

The former GOP operatives behind The Lincoln Project are expanding their list of Republican targets, infuriating allies of President TrumpDonald TrumpVeteran accused in alleged border wall scheme faces new charges Arizona Republicans to brush off DOJ concern about election audit FEC drops investigation into Trump hush money payments MORE's and national Republicans scrambling to preserve the GOP majority in the Senate.

In addition to a relentless negative ad campaign against Trump, the group has so far spent more than $1.3 million attacking Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts House to advance appropriations bills in June, July Manchin touts rating as 'most bipartisan senator' MORE (Maine), who is among the most vulnerable GOP senators up for reelection. That’s by far the most they’ve spent on any Senate candidate.

Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings reveal The Lincoln Project has also targeted more than a half-dozen other Republicans up for reelection in 2020, including Sens. Cory GardnerCory GardnerBiden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 MORE (Colo), Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyArizona state senator announces bid for Kirkpatrick's seat Democratic Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick says she won't seek reelection Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain MORE (Ariz.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHouse to advance appropriations bills in June, July The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  The Memo: The GOP's war is already over — Trump won MORE (S.C.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenate hears from Biden's high-profile judicial nominees for first time Senate Democrats take aim at 'true lender' interest rate rule Former North Carolina chief justice launches Senate campaign MORE (N.C.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstConservative Club for Growth PAC comes out against Stefanik to replace Cheney A bipartisan effort to prevent the scourge of sexual assault in the armed forces Ernst defends Cheney, calls for GOP unity MORE (Iowa), John CornynJohn CornynTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Cornyn is most prolific tweeter in Congress so far in 2021 Schumer 'exploring' passing immigration unilaterally if talks unravel MORE (Texas) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: Taliban could take over Afghanistan by 'the end of the year' McConnell alma mater criticizes him for 1619 comments McConnell amid Trump criticism: 'I'm looking forward, not backward' MORE (Ky.).

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The group is running ads in support of Democratic Senate candidate Steve BullockSteve BullockOvernight Energy: Climate Summit Day 2 — Biden says US will work with other countries on climate innovation Biden announces picks to lead oceans, lands agencies Biden set to pick conservation advocate for top land management role MORE in Montana and independent Al Gross in Alaska, who are seeking to unseat Sens. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesHillicon Valley: DOJ to review cyber challenges | Gaetz, House Republicans want to end funding for postal service surveillance | TikTok gets new CEO Senators introduce bipartisan bill to protect personal travel data Wyden-Paul bill would close loophole allowing feds to collect private data MORE (R-Mont.) and Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanKerry denies allegations from leaked Iran tapes OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court considers whether US should pay for Guam hazardous waste cleanup | EPA eyes reversal of Trump revocation of California vehicle emissions waiver | Kerry faces calls to step down over leaked Iran tapes Kerry faces calls to step down over leaked Iran tapes  MORE (R-Alaska), respectively.

Reed Galen, a strategist for the group, told The Hill that “the Senate map has expanded” and that off-cycle Senate Republicans “shouldn’t believe their day won’t come.” The Lincoln Project has invested very small amounts in ads going after Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  Crist launches bid for Florida governor, seeking to recapture his old job MORE (R-Fla.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts Pollster Frank Luntz: 'I would bet on' Trump being 2024 GOP nominee Tim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls MORE (R-Texas), James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate nixes Trump rule limiting methane regulation | Senate confirms EPA chief: Biden's climate goals are 'an opportunity to lead' | Fine-particle pollution disproportionately hurts people of color: research EPA chief: Biden's climate goals are 'an opportunity to lead' Senate confirms Pentagon policy chief criticized by Republicans for tweets MORE (R-Okla.) and Mike RoundsMike RoundsSenate GOP keeps symbolic earmark ban Senate confirms SEC chief Gensler to full five-year term Congress looks to rein in Biden's war powers MORE (R-S.D.).

Galen said the group is also “taking a look at the House,” with a potential announcement on that front coming soon. In addition, The Lincoln Project is planning a “substantive and robust” effort to encourage voters to send in mail or absentee ballots.

The Lincoln Project is taking heat from Republicans for backing challengers to blue-state GOP senators and moderates, such as Collins, who voted against Trump’s efforts to repeal ObamaCare. Galen defended the attacks, saying they’ll target anyone who they believe has inadequately fought back against Trump.

“The stated goal from the beginning was to defeat Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box and to call out his enablers,” Galen said. “These senators we’ve gone after are not conservative Republicans in any classical sense of those words ... they should have T's behind their names, not R's."

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The Lincoln Project has gone viral with ad campaigns attacking Trump and any GOP senator they believe has not done enough to stand up to the president.

The group’s senior members were well-known Washington Republicans before they turned to electing Democrats. The team includes lawyer George ConwayGeorge ConwayLincoln Project forming 'transition advisory committee' amid calls to close The Hill's Morning Report - Democrats ready mammoth relief bill for 10-day sprint Lincoln Project faces calls to shut down MORE, the husband of White House senior adviser Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayPence urges 'positive' agenda to counter Biden in first speech since leaving office Kellyanne Conway joins Ohio Senate candidate's campaign Mark Zuckerberg, meet Jean-Jacques Rousseau? MORE, as well as veteran GOP operatives and strategists Rick Wilson, Steve Schmidt and John Weaver.

Republicans working to reelect Trump and maintain the majority in the Senate are hitting back, alleging that the former GOP operatives are “grifters” who have taken up electing Democrats because they lost their cushy establishment jobs when Trump was elected.

They’re accusing The Lincoln Project of being a “scam” PAC that funnels money directly to firms with close ties to the founders.

“The Lincoln Project is comprised of grifters who are nothing more than agents of the Democrat Party,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Steve Guest. “Above all else, these political opportunists are solely concerned with making a quick buck for themselves.”

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The Lincoln Project has routed millions of dollars through firms owned or run by two of its co-founders, Galen and Ron Steslow, the president of the consulting firm TUSK Inc.

A review of the group’s independent expenditures shows that, in July alone, The Lincoln Project paid nearly $6 million to Galen’s firm Summit Strategic Communication for media buys and production costs. Likewise, the group routed about $870,000 through TUSK last month, mostly for digital ad buys, FEC filings show.

Taken together, Summit Strategic Communications and TUSK are The Lincoln Project’s two largest vendors.

Craig Holman, a campaign finance and government ethics expert at the liberal nonprofit Public Citizen, said that The Lincoln Project does not appear to be operating as a “scam PAC,” noting that they’ve spent millions for legitimate political causes.

“The real scam PACs are exceedingly bold in the sense that they almost don’t care about what political cause they’re working for,” Holman said. “When it comes to The Lincoln Project, I do see they’re spending a lot of money enriching the founders, but they do seem to have a genuine political objective.”

It’s not all that uncommon for political action committees to use vendors with ties to the PAC itself, Holman said. But “when the bulk of the expenditures go to companies you or your family owns that’s uncommon,” he added.

The Lincoln Project’s critics have also been digging through the past work of senior members of the group to raise questions about their motives.

Trump campaign insiders say Schmidt, a senior adviser to former Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainDOJ: Arizona recount could violate civil rights laws Cheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women Conservative Club for Growth PAC comes out against Stefanik to replace Cheney MORE’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign, interviewed to be Trump’s campaign manager in 2016. Schmidt denies this, saying he was offered the job of campaign manager three times but never interviewed for it. He says he only met with Trump “to see what he was about.”

Lincoln Project critics have circulated a picture of Wilson, a veteran GOP operative, with a Confederate flag on his boat. They’ve also been digging into his finances and debt. Weaver, a senior adviser to former Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), has been attacked for at one point registering to lobby against sanctions on Russia, before backing out.

“It is a Democratic scam PAC run by a bunch of grifters desperate to remain relevant and fill their own coffers,” said Joanna Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Galen defended the group’s work, accusing elected Republican lawmakers of bending their principles to kowtow to Trump.

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He said that for the most part, Republican dissent has been weak and that GOP lawmakers have been silent as Trump ran up the debt, ordered the police to move on peaceful protesters outside the White House and declined to challenge Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinBlinken: US stands with Ukraine in face of Russian aggression Russia keeping 80K troops at border amid NATO exercise, US officials say The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - House GOP drama intensifies; BIden sets new vax goal MORE for offering bounties on U.S. forces.

“They should have seen themselves as members of the U.S. Senate and put the country first,” Galen said. “If the head of the party is Donald Trump and you disagree on policy, politics and decorum, and the best you can summon is that you’re worried and concerned and hope that he does better, that’s not opposition."

“I get from a political perspective you don’t want to draw his ire, but at some point you have to take a stand on these things,” he added. “When history looks back, will you have stood with the U.S. and fought for the underpinnings of democracy or not? These people have made their choices.”

—Updated at 11 a.m.