As co-founders of the Lincoln Project were making millions off of the super PAC they ran, one of them, Reed Galen, quietly launched a little known dark money organization that may have enriched him and his allies even further.
The group, Project Yellowstone, filed a 990 disclosure to the Internal Revenue Service that lists Galen as the principal officer, with a Park City, Utah address. Galen’s consulting firm, Summit Strategic Communications, is based out of the same city in Utah, according to his LinkedIn account.
The group’s website says it is a 501(c)(4) that was created to educate voters on how to vote in person or by mail in the 2020 presidential election during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Documents show that Galen’s Lincoln Project and Project Yellowstone were directly linked. Although this partnership is not illegal, the arrangement could have allowed behind the scenes payments to firms with ties to the super PAC’s leadership or other vendors that often did work with the Lincoln Project.
The Lincoln Project has already come under scrutiny for paying vendors with ties to the committee’s leadership, including millions to a firm founded by Galen himself. There are also questions about which subcontractors the Lincoln Project paid that might not have been publicly disclosed.
Still, since there are very few IRS documents available on Project Yellowstone, that nonprofit can go on for at least the next year without publicly producing information on how much it raised, its donors and which vendors it paid.
Starting in Aug., Project Yellowstone began publishing digital and TV ads promoting its website to potential voters. Galen himself promoted Project Yellowstone’s work in a tweet that month. The Lincoln Project officially launched in Dec. 2019. The final Project Yellowstone digital ad was published in October.
Erin Dobson, a co-executive director of Project Yellowstone, says on her LinkedIn page that it is a “partner organization of The Lincoln Project.” Galen is not listed anywhere on the group’s website.
Outside of Dobson’s detail on her LinkedIn page, there is very little public mention of Project Yellowstone and the Lincoln Project working in tandem.
Galen did not return requests for comment. Neither did a Lincoln Project spokesperson or representatives of Project Yellowstone.
After CNBC published this story, Dobson did send a comment and did not deny any component of the article. Instead, she gave extra details on Project Yellowstone’s finances while not mentioning Galen in her statement.
“Project Yellowstone’s efforts began in August 2020 and it raised approximately $6,000,000 of which approximately $5,550,000 was spent for nonpartisan communications during the General Election and in the Georgia Senate run-off,” Dobson’s email says. “The co-executive directors were paid as independent consultants. Project Yellowstone also contracted directly with vendors to produce video and radio content, amplify that content on digital and broadcast platforms, fundraising efforts, legal, and administrative tasks. Project Yellowstone will file it’s 2020 990 in May of 2021 as required.”
The discovery of Project Yellowstone and its connection to the Lincoln Project comes as the super PAC not only faces scrutiny for its financial dealings, but its co-founder John Weaver faces accusations of sexual misconduct. Although Lincoln Project has denied it, numerous reports indicate heads of the organization were aware of Weaver’s alleged behavior throughout the 2020 presidential election.
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 in a statement on Monday that they had retained the law firm Paul Hastings to review the allegations against Weaver. The group also noted it is working with outside counsel to strengthen its corporate governance, finance, operational structure, human resources and leadership.
Other co-founders include Steve Schmidt, a former leader of the late Sen. John McCain’s 2008 campaign for president, author and former George H.W. Bush campaign advisor Rick Wilson and conservative lawyer George Conway. Schmidt resigned from Lincoln Project’s board last week as donors to the committee started distancing themselves from the group. Conway is no longer part of the organization.
Schmidt was asked about the PAC’s financial dealings in an interview with Bill Maher after the former McCain aide stepped down from Lincoln Project’s board.
“Out of $87 million that was raised by The Lincoln Project, about $63 to $66 million of that money went into voter-contact programs,” Schmidt told Maher on Friday. After being asked where the rest of the money went, Schmidt only said they wanted to “protect” their staff and other vendors from “harassment by the Trump people.” Federal Election Commission records show that the PAC ended up spending nearly $82 million.
Former leaders of the PAC are now calling for the committee to shutdown.
Galen’s firm reaped just over $24 million from the Lincoln Project during the 2020 election cycle, according to data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). A key focus of the PAC was to push out attack ads against former President Donald Trump.
A Federal Communications Commission record that was discovered by CRP and provided to CNBC, lists Galen as the chairman of Project Yellowstone. The address on the FCC form matches that of the Lincoln Project’s.
FCC records list Ashton Media as the media placement agency for the Project Yellowstone ads. Though the documents don’t say how much Project Yellowstone paid for Ashton Media’s services, the Lincoln Project spent over $6.5 million on the same company throughout the election, CRP data shows.
Project Yellowstone ended up spending over $180,000 on Facebook ads during the last cycle, according to CRP digital ad data. Data from Ad Impact shows that from August through September, Project Yellowstone spent over $450,000 on TV ads. They aired in Pennsylvania and Florida. Biden went on to defeat Trump in Pennsylvania but lost Florida.
Project Yellowstone and Lincoln Project’s ties are also apparent in how they raised money. The group each used Anedot, a campaign donation processor that recently cut ties with the Lincoln Project. Anedot was paid over $3 million by the Lincoln Project.
They also were clients of the same fundraising firm, Katz Watson Group. The firm shows Lincoln Project and Project Yellowstone under their public list of clients. Katz Watson Group saw over $300,000 in payments from the Lincoln Project.
Then there are the other leaders of Project Yellowstone and their ties to Galen, along with other Lincoln Project leaders.
Greg Jenkins, another co-executive director of Project Yellowstone, worked in the George W. Bush administration at the same time as Galen.
Dobson was a senior advisor to former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz starting in 2018 as he mulled an independent run for president. Schmidt, at the time, was one of Schultz’s lead strategists.