Lincoln Project backers consider cutting off donations in wake of misconduct allegations

In this Jan. 20, 2016 file photo, John Weaver is shown on a campaign bus in Bow, N.H. The Lincoln Project was launched in November 2019 as a super PAC that allowed its leaders to raise and spend unlimited sums of money.

Charles Krupa | AP

The Lincoln Project, the group of conservative operatives that made a splash with viral ads targeting former President Trump, is at risk of losing financial support after one of its founders was accused of sexual misconduct.

Several wealthy donors are considering cutting off their backing for the organization, according to people close to these financiers. They are paying especially close attention to the results of an external investigation into whether other leaders knew about co-founder John Weaver’s alleged harassment of several men, these people added.

Several of the people close to the donors declined to be named because they were concerned about retribution by Lincoln Project leaders and their allies.

Despite numerous reports to the contrary, the Lincoln Project – whose original members include late Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign boss Steve Schmidt, author and former George H. W. Bush campaign advisor Rick Wilson and conservative lawyer George Conway – has denied it was aware of any allegations of misconduct against Weaver until just recently. The group condemned Weaver’s behavior on Jan. 31.

Weaver told the New York Times in January that he was a closeted gay man and that he’s “truly sorry to these men and everyone and for letting so many people down.”

The Lincoln Project said Thursday that it is “retaining a best-in-class outside professional to review Mr. Weaver’s tenure with the organization and to establish both accountability and best practices going forward for The Lincoln Project.”

The FBI is investigating the allegations against Weaver, as well, according to independent journalist Yashar Ali, who cited sources claiming to be contacted by agents.

The Lincoln Project did not respond to CNBC’s follow up requests for comment.

The group will need continued financial support if it intends to keep pursuing its stated mission to target pro-Trump politicians and the former president. Reportedly, the group has been looking to form a media business. It already has a live online show called “LPTV.” A representative from United Talent Agency, which reportedly had been in talks to build out the group’s media presence, did not respond to a request for comment.

The PAC raised over $87 million, much of it from several Democratic megadonors. Leaders of the organization were so confident in their fundraising prowess that some organizers told CNBC in May that they were planning to approach billionaire and former presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg for a donation. Records show that Bloomberg did not end up contributing.

A large portion of Lincoln Project’s spending went toward paying vendors owned by its leaders. The group was founded in December 2019.

Donor Jen Pritzker, a member of the wealthy and influential Pritzker family, suggested that she could stop giving money to the group in light of the allegations against Weaver. Pritzker contributed to President Joe Biden’s joint fundraising committee and other Democratic groups.

“I believed in the Lincoln Project’s mission and supported its efforts aimed to prevent the re-election of Donald Trump,” Pritzker told CNBC in a statement. “As a donor, I trusted that my gift would be used to further support the organization’s objectives. Sexual misconduct is something that cannot be tolerated by any organization. Anyone can be a victim and these allegations should be treated with respect for the law, and human rights.”

A spokeswoman for Pritzker’s Tawani Enterprises noted that she hadn’t made a decision yet on whether she will contribute in the future.

Pritzker gave $100,000 to the Lincoln Project in October, Federal Election Commission records show. John Pritzker, another member of the family, also gave the group $100,000. He did not return a request for comment.

When asked by CNBC whether Jeffrey Katzenberg would stop giving to the Lincoln Project, an advisor for the Hollywood power player didn’t rule it out. “Not our focus,” the advisor said in an email. Katzenberg gave $100,000 to the PAC in August, records said. Katzenbeg was also a major Biden bundler.

Meanwhile, CNBC has learned that two previous Lincoln Project vendors won’t be working with the group again.

Aaron, Thomas & Associates, which calls itself a specialist in political direct mail, received over $90,000 from the group in September, records show. The firm’s work with the group had ceased before the Weaver allegations arose, but the company has decided not to accept further business from the Lincoln Project.

“Absolutely not,” founder Fred Thomas said in response to CNBC’s inquiry about whether it would work with the Lincoln Project again. “When we quoted doing this work, we were not even aware of what it was or who it was for. We ended up brokering it out to someone else anyways,” he added, noting that his company “don’t care to produce negative mail.”

Anedot, a campaign donation processor that was used by Lincoln Project in the last election cycle, is closing its account with the group, according to a company representative who declined to be named.

“Anedot has recently been made aware of certain incidents that caused our Accounts team to notify the account holder that the account would be closed,” the representative said.

The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics says Anedot was paid over $3 million in fees during the 2020 cycle. The Anedot representative said they do not disclose reasons for closing accounts.

As for the Lincoln Project building its media business, CNBC reached out to Zeldavision, a live-streaming production company that received over $1 million from the group. The business promotes a partnership with the PAC. According to Zeldavision’s website, it also appears to be helping produce Lincoln Project’s live content.

The firm did not respond to whether they will stand by the PAC going forward.

Tara Setmayer, who labels herself on her Twitter page as a senior advisor and who has hosted an LPTV show, declared that she was “dismayed & disappointed” by recent event surrounding the Lincoln Project.

“It cannot be tolerated. More to say soon,” Setmayer added.





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