October 20, 2020

Meet The Democratic Donors Who Helped Enrich The Lincoln Project ‘Grifters’

By Jeffrey Cawood
MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: (l-r) Steve Schmidt, GOP Strategist, appears on "Meet the Press" in Washington, D.C., Sunday, June 15, 2014.
William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC Newswire/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

President Donald J. Trump’s campaign has described the Lincoln Project as “a transparent way for political bottom feeders to make easy money.” A group of strategists claiming to be disillusioned Republicans purportedly formed the political action committee to prevent their nemesis from winning a second term, a goal shared by the many Democratic donors bankrolling their efforts. But recent campaign disclosures indicate a substantial portion of those donations have been spent on questionable operating expenditures, sparking accusations that the PAC’s leaders are “grifters” running a “scam” designed to enrich themselves.

Rob Pyers, Research Director for the nonpartisan California Target Book, examined the Lincoln Project’s financial filings from the three-month period covering July through September. The records showed it had raised more than $39 million during that quarter. However, Pyers found that nearly $23.9 million of that total had been channeled to independent expenditures, “mostly routed” to consulting firms owned by two of the PAC’s co-founders, Reed Galen and Ron Steslow.

Pyers broke down the data last week in a series of widely-shared social media posts. He discovered that Galen’s Summit Strategic Communications received $18.8 million over the three months, while Steslow’s TUSK Digital took in $8.7 million.

The PAC “burned a staggering $13 million on operating expenditures” during the third quarter, Pyers said, noting Galen’s company got $129,668 for lodging reimbursement in August alone. The committee ended with $13.2 million cash on hand.

“Nice work if you can get it,” Pyers concluded.  

The revelations proved that it is still possible for many Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians to find common ground in today’s toxic political climate, albeit for different reasons. 

The Daily Wire Editor Emeritus Ben Shapiro tweeted: “The Lincoln Project has to be, along with Saira Rao’s woke shaming dinners and Ibram Kendi’s anti-racism training, the greatest scam of all time.” 

Democratic strategist Sawyer Hackett, who recently worked on Julián Castro’s presidential campaign, described the operation as “a giant grift and image rehabilitation for GOP consultants responsible for all of the terrible shit that happened pre-Trump.”

And Glenn Greenwald, co-founder of The Intercept, called the PAC’s co-founders “the biggest f***ing frauds and grifters in US politics by a good margin,” adding, “it’s alarming to see how easily, effortlessly and completely they have manipulated liberals…”

President Trump has called out several of the PAC’s co-founders by name, including John Weaver, Rick Wilson, and Steve Schmidt. He believes they are still bitter about their inability to stop the “Make America Great Again” movement in 2016, “doing everything possible to get even for all of their many failures.” Trump’s team sent out an email blast on May 6 warning, “The Lincoln Project Losers Are Scam Artists.”  

The committee has also targeted the president’s allies in the Senate who are up for reelection.

“The Trump campaign encourages all Democrats to light their money on fire by sending money to line these losers’ pockets,” the message read.

Still, the contributions flowed in from across the country. Here are eight major Democratic donors who donated large sums:

1. Gordon Getty, San Francisco, CA. 

Getty’s father was the oil magnate, J. Paul Getty. The billionaire philanthropist gave the Lincoln Project a $1 million influx of cash in June.  He and his late wife Ann, who died of a heart attack last month, have been “a regular presence of San Francisco’s upper-crust society events,” the Associated Press reported.

As heir to the family fortune, Getty is part of the Bay Area elite who often host fundraisers for several local politicians on the national scene. He has provided financial support for progressive icons like former Sen. Barbara Boxer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris. Getty has longtime ties to California Governor Gavin Newsom and helped fund Tom Steyer’s “Need To Impeach” drive.

2. Stephen Mandel, Greenwich, CT. 

Mandel is a Connecticut hedge fund managing director. A New York Times report from July said he had “emerged as one of the Democratic Party’s biggest donors.” The article cited his $1 million gift to the Lincoln Project and a $1.5 million contribution to American Bridges, a Democratic-led anti-Trump super PAC. Mandel and his wife have given more than $9.2 million to Democrats in this election cycle.

Business Insider reported he donated $1.4 million to Democrats in 2018.

3. Sixteen Thirty Fund, Washington, D.C.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, “The Lincoln Project received $300,000 from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a liberal nonprofit that injected $32 million in ‘dark money’ into like-minded outside groups through August.”

Politico described the secretive organization as an “obscure nonprofit in downtown Washington, D.C.” that “has funneled millions of dollars to progressive causes.”

The Washington Post previously reported the fund gave $5.7 million to groups working to elect Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

4. David Geffen, Los Angeles, CA.

The film producer who co-founded DreamWorks Animation made a pair of donations to the Lincoln Project totaling $300,000.

Geffen was among several Democrat billionaires backing former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s presidential run. He has also given to Democrats in key congressional races this year, including Amy McGrath, who is running against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) in Kentucky; and Jaime Harrison, who is trying to unseat South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R).  

According to Forbes, Geffen’s estimated net worth is $8.7 billion

5. Jeffrey Katzenberg, Los Angeles, CA.

Katzenberg, another co-founder of DreamWorks, gave the Lincoln Project $100,000.

When discussing Trump’s presidency in 2017, he said, “the worst nightmare that I could ever imagine doesn’t come close to this [reality],” according to The Hollywood Reporter.

He and his wife, Marilyn, hosted a virtual fundraiser for Biden in June that raised an estimated $6 million. He co-hosted another in August that raised $7 million more. The New York Times categorized Katzenberg as one of Biden’s “biggest benefactors” in the second quarter, reporting he had provided at least $500,000 toward efforts to defeat President Trump. 

He has also been a prolific Hollywood fundraiser for groups that supported President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2016.

6. Megan Chernin, Beverly Hills, CA.

Another $100,000 to the anti-Trump PAC came from Mrs. Chernin, who sits on the board of an L.A.-based education nonprofit. 

She is a frequent donor to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and has also given generously to DNC Services Corp Democratic PAC.  

Her husband, Peter, is the former president of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. They have previously hosted fundraisers for President Obama, 

7. Joshua Bekenstein, Wayland, MA.

Bekenstein is the co-chairman of Bain Capital, the private equity investment firm co-founded by Mitt Romney. He pitched in $100,000 to assist the Liberty Project.

Information from the Federal Elections Commission shows he and his wife, Anita, have already directed more than $11.3 million to Democrats this cycle. According to Business Insider, the couple donated more than $7.7 million to Democrats in 2018.

8. Amos Hostetter, Boston, MA.

Forbes describes Hostetter as a “cable TV pioneer” who “made a fortune in the 1990s.”

He donated $100,000 to the Liberty Project and another $100,000 to the VoteVets PAC. The groups recently collaborated to produce an anti-Trump ad.  


Hostetter’s wife, Barbara, contributed to Buttigieg’s presidential campaign. They established a family foundation that gifts millions of dollars every year to support arts, education, and address climate change. 

Mr. Hostetter currently runs an investment firm called Pilot Spot Ventures.