Lincoln Project Paid More than $2 Million to Firms Owned by Its Founders

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Matt Winkelmeyer, Chip Somodevilla, Brad Barket/Getty Images

The Lincoln Project, a political action committee run by a cadre of GOP campaign operatives opposed to President Donald Trump, has paid out more than two million dollars to firms owned by its founding members.

The group, which was formed last December, has made national headlines for its viral ads, many of which attack Trump and his congressional allies. Since its launch, the Lincoln Projected has raised more than $19 million, with most of the money ($16.8 million) coming in over the last three months. A significant portion of the group’s newfound contributions, as noted by the Center for Responsive Politics, come from Democrat mega-donors, some of whom have donated as much as one million dollars.

Although much emphasis has been placed on the Lincoln Project’s fundraising numbers, especially the fact that 45 percent of its total contributions come from individuals giving $200-or-less, little attention has been paid to how the group is spending its money. Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings made public on Wednesday grant an inside view of how the Never Trump organization has operated in its first six months of existence.

The filings indicate that the Lincoln Project’s biggest vendors, Summit Strategic Communications, LLC and Tusk Digital, Inc., are owned by two of its board members.

Summit, which was incorporated in Park City, Utah in March 2018, is owned and operated by Reed Galen, one of the Lincon Project’s co-founders. Galen, a well-connected Republican Strategist, worked on both former President George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection effort and the late-Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. Prior to Galen linking up with the Lincoln Project, Summit appears to have had only one political client at the federal level.

Tusk, on the other hand, is a strategic consulting and marketing firm owned by Ron Steslow, another founder of the Lincoln Project. The firm, which was incorporated in Nevada in February 2014, has counted among its clients the Republican Party of Colorado and several former senators, including Dean Heller and Orrin Hatch. Its most notable client, however, was former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who employed Tusk throughout her unsuccessful bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Regardless of their histories, FEC records show that Summit and Tusk have been paid an extraordinarily large amount of money in the past six months through the Lincoln Project.

Summit has received more than $1.1 million from the Never Trump group for digital advertising, video production, and strategic consulting. The firm was paid the majority of the sum, more than $779,000, in the first three months of this year. Between the beginning of April and the end of June, Summit was paid an additional $354,000.

Some of the most notable payments include $208,070 for “database management and construction,” more than $146,00 for “media production and communications services,” and $21,949 for “video production.” A number of payments were made on the same day. This was the case on May 8 of this year, when Summit received three installments, totaling $100,000, for political strategy, communications consulting, and production services.

Likewise, Tusk has also received more than $1.1 million from the Lincoln Project. The majority of the sum, however, was paid between the beginning of April and the end of June, with the firm receiving $945,562 in those three months. In the first three months, Tusk was paid only $194,750 for online advertising and “digital services.”

The largest and most frequent payments to the firm came in May and June. For instance, the Lincoln Project made ten payments to Tusk in June totaling more than $482,242. Some of the payments, such as two installments of $90,000 on May 6 and May 11, were described as “digital advertising” on the FEC forms. Others, like a $50,000 payment on May 14, was listed simply as “research services.” Similarly, two payments of $200,000 each–about 40 percent of the total paid to Tusk–went to the firm in June for digital advertising.

It is unclear if any of the money being paid to either company is being used to hire sub-vendors or outside contractors and consultants. The Lincoln Project did not return requests for comment on this story.

Revelations about the payments to companies controlled by the Lincoln Project’s founders come into the spotlight as the group is increasingly in the crosshairs of Trump and his allies within the GOP.

“While they like to portray themselves as committed to upholding conservative principles, a deeper delve shows the Lincoln Project’s real raison d’etre seems to lie more in profiting off attacking President Trump than it does anything else,” Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, wrote in an op-ed recently, while attacking the group for one of its ads.

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