Despite billing itself as an organization run by skillful political operatives, the pro-Democrat Lincoln Project has racked up a long string of electoral defeats.
“Our efforts are aimed at persuading enough disaffected conservatives, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in swing states and districts to help ensure a victory in the Electoral College, and congressional majorities that don’t enable or abet Mr. Trump’s violations of the Constitution,” long-time Republican operatives George Conway, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver, and Rick Wilson wrote. (RELATED: The Lincoln Project Is Launching A New Spinoff To Promote ‘Civility’)
As part of those efforts, the Lincoln Project spent $46,860,445 in independent expenditures across sixteen Senate races and the presidential election. In those races, the group was on the winning side only five times, backing President Joe Biden, and Georgia Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. The Lincoln Project also opposed Republican Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, who lost her race to Democrat Mark Kelly, and Republican Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who lost to John Hickenlooper.
In comparison, PACs that spent similar amounts of money, such as Americans for Prosperity Action and Independence USA, focused on only the presidential election or had much better win-loss records. Independence USA exclusively spent on the presidential election, while Americans for Prosperity Action boasted a 20-15 win-loss record, according to Open Secrets.
The vast majority of Lincoln Project independent expenditures, more than 88%, were on negative campaign ads. In addition to Republicans believed to be in close races, like Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Montana Sen. Steve Daines, the group also spent money opposing Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, both of whom faced long-shot opponents.
The Lincoln Project: “Susan Collins never stands up to Donald Trump…Collins isn’t an independent. She’s a fraud.”pic.twitter.com/th39opUjPs
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) July 29, 2020
Despite the group’s claim that it would persuade conservatives to vote for Democrats, it did so in perhaps the most ineffective way possible. Political science research has consistently shown that negative attack ads do not increase voter turnout overall, and do not persuade undecided voters to support a candidate. Negative campaign ads do, however, increase base turnout and improve fundraising metrics.
The Lincoln Project struck again in the 2021 Virginia gubernatorial election, with a similar playbook. The group ran ads claiming that Trump “handpicked” Republican Glenn Youngkin to run for office, and accusing Youngkin of running a racist campaign. It later organized a hoax in which its operatives stood outside of a Youngkin rally dressed as white supremacists.
The Super PAC’s losing record, as well as reports that its founders have used donations to fund their own companies and pay off existing debts, have led some observers to question the Lincoln Project’s motives. Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez claimed in November 2020 that the group was “definitely in scam territory.” Stephen Colbert’s satirical news talk show, “Tooning Out The News,” labeled Wilson and his co-founders “savvy grifters,” while noting the group’s high operating costs.
Other observers have suggested that the group committed campaign finance violations.
During the 2020 Georgia Senate election run-off, former Lincoln Project communications director Keith Edwards worked as a paid consultant to the campaign of Jon Ossoff. However, Edwards’ firm, That’s Good Media, remained on the payroll of the Lincoln Project through January. The Lincoln Project spent $142,000 in independent expenditures to promote Ossoff during the cycle.
“In situations where an individual has ties to both a campaign and outside organization, it raises serious concerns of illegal coordination,” Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust executive director Kendra Arnold told the Washington Free Beacon.