A prominent, recently formed anti-Trump political action committee has sent over $3 million in independent expenditures to a firm run by the treasurer of the committee itself, an arrangement that raises the specter of what finance experts refer to as "self-dealing."
The Lincoln Project was first formed late last year. The super PAC states on its website that its mission is to "defeat President Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box." Among the group's advisers are numerous former Republicans who have publicly broken with the party over its support for Trump.
The committee is unabashed in its opposition not just to Donald Trump but to any Republican it feels is insufficiently opposed to him.
"Electing Democrats who support the Constitution over Republicans who do not is a worthy effort," the group's website states.
Though the group was only formed in November, it has already spent a considerable amount of money. Filings indicate it has disbursed well over $4 million in independent expenditures this election cycle so far. Yet the majority of those funds have gone to a single firm, one owned and operated by the Lincoln Project's own treasurer.
FEC filings show that over $3 million of the committee's independent expenditures since January have been distributed to a group called Summit Strategic Communications.
The owner of Summit Strategic Communications, Reed Galen, is listed in FEC filings as the Lincoln Project's treasurer. His LinkedIn page states that he's been the owner of Summit since January of 2018.
Galen is described on the Lincoln Project's website as "an independent political strategist" who has "spent the last three years dedicated to the political reform movement, creating a better system for all voters."
A filing submitted June 27 to the FEC shows that one the group's latest round of expenditures to Summit, totaling nearly $440,000, were for "media buys." The "person completing form" on those expenditures is listed as Reed Galen.
The conservative nonprofit Club for Growth recently launched a new ad campaign opposing the Lincoln Project, declaring it a "get rich quick scheme" advocating Joe Biden's presidential campaign.
"Legitimate PACs on either side of the aisle" will "spend their money through basically media vendors — people who put together the ads, buy the airtime, etc.," David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, told Just the News. "Those are almost always independent. You contract at arm’s length, and they deliver a service."
Contrasting that practice with the Lincoln Project's largely in-house expenditures, McIntosh accused the committee of being a "Democratic front group" whose leaders have been "funneling donations to their own organizations to line their pockets."
He also expressed doubts about the ultimate efficacy of the project itself, citing the committee's "Mourning in America" ad, which aired last month. The advertisement earned the very public ire of President Trump, leading to widespread viewing and a flood of donations.
"The Mourning in America ad was targeted at the elite political establishment," McIntosh said. "You kind of get the feeling that they’re trying to goad the president into saying something so they can make more money. Because when he tweets about it, 40 million people hear about it."
"But I don’t think it has a real impact in the battleground states," he added.
Those sentiments were echoed this week at the New Republic, a progressive media outlet. "To a large extent, the Lincoln Project’s raison d’être is simply to annoy Trump and his closest allies," writer Alex Shepherd observed.
"The resulting controversy," Shepherd said, "bring[s] it attention and money," though he acknowledged that those public spats "might possibly aid in its ultimate mission, removing Trump from office."
Shepherd also noted how a significant majority of the group's budget stays within the small circle of its members.
Reed Galen did not respond to requests for comment regarding the expenditures. The Lincoln Project also did not respond to emails seeking comment.
Andrew Mayersohn, a committees researcher at the watchdog Center for Responsive Politics, told Just the News it is "not at all uncommon for a group to have a single dominant vendor."
CRP's website OpenSecrets noted in May that the Lincoln Project's spending had recently "come under scrutiny," in part due to its payments to Summit. Mayersohn argued that the issue is more complex than that, however.
"At one end of the spectrum, some groups spend almost exclusively on payments to fundraising firms tied to the PAC's operators, which is pretty clearly a red flag," he said. "The Lincoln Project is not one of those, since almost all their spending is on media."
"What caught our eye was the fact that they spend so much money on media production, rather than airing the ads themselves," Mayersohn said.
"But it's hard to say that that strategy didn't pay off, since they earned more media attention by making their ad go viral than they could have by buying airtime," Mayersohn added referring to the "Mourning in America" ad.
Summit Strategic Communications appears to have little in the way of a public front. The group is incorporated in Park City, Utah, and does not appear to have a website of any kind.
Galen himself, per his LinkedIn page, appears to also own a bar called the Cloak Room in Austin, Texas. The website CultureMap states that the bar is "rumored to be frequented by politicos past and present while the Texas legislature is in session."
Behind Summit, the Lincoln Project's second-largest recipient of outlays appears to be TUSK Digital, which has received around $1.2 million from the group. The owner of that firm, Ron Steslow, is also an advisor for the Lincoln Project.