Lincoln Project faces calls to shut down
The Lincoln Project, the group formed little more than a year ago by a band of anti-Trump Republicans, is facing calls to shut down amid allegations of a toxic and abusive culture at the organization.
So far, two former top officials at the Lincoln Project have backed the idea of closing down the group, including one of its co-founders, George Conway, who stepped away from the project last summer. Kurt Bardella, who left his role as a senior adviser for the Lincoln Project last week, has also called for the group to shutter.
“Just shut it down already … it’s over,” he tweeted on Tuesday. Reached by The Hill on Wednesday, Bardella said that his tweet speaks for itself and declined to comment further.
Conway echoed that sentiment, writing in his own tweet that Bardella “is right” in his assertion that it’s time to close down the Lincoln Project.
“It’s a shame, and we shouldn’t forget the hard work of so many people and the positive things the organization did, but yes, I think this is right,” Conway wrote.
The group has also hired a law firm, Paul Hastings, to “investigate allegations of inappropriate behavior” by another one of its co-founders, John Weaver, who has been accused of harassing numerous young men online. Those allegations were first reported late last month by The New York Times.
Since then, the Lincoln Project’s troubles have only deepened. Allegations have surfaced that the group’s leaders knew about Weaver’s behavior far earlier than they have publicly let on.
Meanwhile, eight former employees and associates have signed on to an open letter asking to be released from their nondisclosure agreements, a move that would allow them to speak publicly about their experiences at the group. The Lincoln Project has said that those who wish to be released from their NDAs should contact the group directly.
At the same time, Jennifer Horn, the sole woman among the Lincoln Project’s co-founders, resigned earlier this month amid contract negotiations. In a statement issued last week, Horn said that the group’s leadership had “rejected outright” her demand that they “properly address the Weaver issue publicly and issue a call to action to take on sexual harassment and power imbalance/exploitation issues.”
Horn also said that she had recently learned from Weaver’s victims that their interactions with him had started “nearly a year ago” and that those interactions had been “communicated to others in the Lincoln Project.” Steve Schmidt, another Lincoln Project co-founder, has said that he did not become aware of the allegations against Weaver until January.
“I was genuinely shocked,” Horn said. “These are not my stories to tell, but I knew in that moment that ‘the Lincoln Project,’ had an opportunity to take a stand and do better.”
Horn did not respond on Wednesday to an interview request. But she retweeted Conway’s message that the Lincoln Project should be closed down amid the scandal.
The Lincoln Project did not respond to The Hill’s questions regarding the calls for it to shut down. The group said in a previous statement that recent news reports about its internal troubles were riddled with “inaccuracies” but acknowledged Weaver’s conduct would have to be addressed.
“Recently published stories about The Lincoln Project are filled with inaccuracies, incorrect information, and reliant exclusively on anonymous sources,” the statement said. “However, 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.”
Weaver is no longer with the Lincoln Project. He had been on medical leave since August and announced last month that he would not be returning.
The group has also released its own account of Horn’s departure, claiming that she resigned after the Lincoln Project’s board rejected her contractual demands, including “an immediate ‘signing bonus’ payment of $250,000 and a $40,000 per month consulting contract,” as well as “a board seat on the Lincoln Project, a television show, a podcast hosting assignment, and a staff to manage these endeavors.”
Horn, in a statement, said that the Lincoln Project’s account of her departure was “patently false” and accused the group of launching “a direct assault” on her character.
The recent spate of controversies at the Lincoln Project underscore the group’s remarkable fall from grace after emerging as a political force in 2020.
Formed in December 2019 by a group of anti-Trump current and former Republicans, the Lincoln Project quickly established itself as the leading GOP group opposed to former President Trump and the lawmakers who allied themselves with him.
It raked in more than $87 million during the 2020 election cycle and spent nearly $82 million, primarily on expansive and attention-grabbing advertising campaigns that took on what the group believed was Trump’s corruption of the Republican Party and conservatism. At times, those ads delved into personal attacks that excited many Trump critics and angered his allies.
The Lincoln Project has faced some questions over its finances, however. Throughout the 2020 cycle, the group routed tens of millions of dollars to firms run by its co-founders.
Summit Strategic Communications, a firm owned by Lincoln Project co-founder Reed Galen, received some $27.5 million from the group through January, mostly for independent expenditures. Likewise, it paid Tusk Digital, a firm run by another Lincoln Project co-founder, Ron Steslow, more than $22 million.
For all its spending in 2020, the Lincoln Project still has a considerable amount of money in the bank — about $5.5 million, according to its most recent filings with the Federal Election Commission.
The group is beginning the year deeply fractured and facing an increasingly bleak outlook.
Anedot, the firm that processed online donations for the Lincoln Project, has closed the group’s account. In a statement to CNBC, Anedot said that its decision to cut ties with the Lincoln Project was spurred by certain unspecified “incidents.” The Lincoln Project’s online fundraising portal has been offline for days.
The group’s founders have also drifted away over the past several months. Of the eight members who founded the Lincoln Project just over a year ago, only three remain: Schmidt, Galen and Rick Wilson.
Schmidt announced on Friday that he had resigned his seat on the organization’s board “to make room for the appointment of a female board member as the first step to reform and professionalize the Lincoln Project.”
“The Lincoln Project was built to fight,” Schmidt said in a statement. “It is my deepest hope that, despite the recent internal events that have distracted from our cause, you will entrust in us to continue to fight for what the entire Lincoln Project movement believes in: combatting the rising tide of fascism and authoritarianism in this country.
“We are one election away from seeing the end of American democracy. This fight will go on for the rest of my life.”