Philosopher Eric Hoffer said it best: “Every great cause starts out as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually devolves into a racket.” In the case of the Lincoln Project, founded in late 2019, the metamorphosis was almost instantaneous, according to the New York Times, who is running a piece detailing how the group started out as an anti-Trump mission, raised $87 Million in donations, and then a combination of John Weaver’s dalliances and fights about money began to tank the organization.
Even people once associated with the group, including George T. Conway III, have called for its dissolution. But Mr. Schmidt’s faction intends to continue it as a modern media campaign against global forces of authoritarianism, while also monetizing the movement.
Save for Mr. Weaver, the project’s top leadership — Mr. Schmidt, Mr. Galen and Mr. Wilson — has not changed. They are hoping that enough of its more than 500,000 donors will remain to keep its coffers filled.
Mr. Schmidt, in a recent interview conducted shortly before he took a leave of absence, said this was no time to quit.
“I want the Lincoln Project to be one of the premier pro-democracy organizations,” he said. “We believe there is a real autocratic movement that is a threat to democracy and has a floor of 40 percent in the next election. And the pro-democracy side cannot be the gentle side of the debate.”
That is the noble part of the situation and what has motivated the donations — that, plus the quality of the media produced. But the ignoble part of the situation is the way that money was handled.
“This thing was literally a pop-up stand,” said Mr. Conway, an unpaid adviser who had no real operational role before stepping away from the organization last summer. “It was an organization that got big really fast, and more money came in than anyone could have imagined. It was just catch as catch can.”
As money poured in, robust cost controls were lacking, with founders reaping management fees. And while big payments are common in politics, other Lincoln Project officials and employees were shocked at the scale when federal records revealed that nearly $27 million had been paid to Mr. Galen’s consulting firm, Summit Strategic Communications. It is not known how much of that each of the four received. Their private arrangement shielded even from other senior officials the size of the individual payments. […]
Mr. Galen was also earning commissions on nearly $13.3 million directed to another contractor, Ashton Media, which placed the group’s television ads, a former Lincoln Project official said. The project declined to discuss the commissions but said in a statement that it was “standard practice” to use “either a percentage, fixed-fee or hybrid model for media buying.”
Jan Baran, a longtime Republican campaign finance lawyer, said that it was “customary and customarily controversial” for campaign consultants to steer business to their own firms, but that, typically, candidates and PACs negotiate those fees down. What makes the Lincoln Project different, he said, is that “the consultants are their own client, so I’m guessing the negotiations wouldn’t have been as rigorous.”
When the company had been going about six months and making money hand over fist, the troubling email came, describing John Weaver’s “bait and switch” in 2015, when John Weaver offered to discuss a political job with a young man and tried to take him to his hotel room instead. That was the tinder box that caught fire, because it was part of an ongoing pattern of behavior.
By the time the Lincoln Project was founded, Mr. Weaver had been harassing young men online for years. In the most aggressive messages reviewed by The Times, he explicitly offered professional help or mentorship in exchange for sex. Other times, he asked young men about their height, weight and other measurements, and suggested they get drinks or travel together.
So much for mixing noble social endeavor with being a dirty old man. While that portion of the Lincoln Project was blowing up, Steve Schmidt and Rick Wilson had plans for TLP Media, a billion dollar media company. It’s anybody’s guess where things are going to go now.
“I’ve been talking to a lot of donors,” Mr. [Stuart] Stevens said. “The support is tremendous. Most of them have been involved in business and had a few rough times. They were drawn to Lincoln Project not because we were H.R. geniuses but because we knew how to fight and were willing to take on our own party. That hasn’t changed.”
But the Weaver problem will linger.
“The attacks that are coming on us from Donald Trump Jr. and all these other people, they’re gleeful — they love the gift that John Weaver gave them,” Mr. Wilson said in an emotional monologue on the group’s video program “The Breakdown” last month. “What he’s given them is a weapon in their hands.”
I know LP's supporters want to continue the fight against Trumpism, and I urge them to do so in some other way.
— George Conway (@gtconway3d) March 8, 2021
Definitely read the full story, if you don’t read any other piece in full today.