John Weaver is shown on a campaign bus in Bow, N.H., in this file photo dated Jan. 20, 2016. The Lincoln Project launched in November 2019 as a Super PAC that allowed its executives to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money.
Charles Krupa | AP
The Lincoln Project, a group of conservative activists that made a splash with viral ads targeting former President Donald Trump, is at risk of losing financial support after one of its founders is accused of sexual misconduct.
Several wealthy donors are considering cutting off their support for the Political Action Committee, according to people close to these financiers. They are paying particular attention to the results of an outside investigation into whether other leaders knew of allegations that co-founder John Weaver molested several men, these people added.
Shortly after this article was published, Steve Schmidt, another group co-founder, stepped down from the board after the public disclosure of a private Twitter direct message was controversial between former Lincoln Project co-founder Jennifer Horn and a reporter.
"This direct message should never have been published. It is my job as a senior executive to take responsibility for the enormous misjudgment in order to get it released," said Schmidt.
In a letter announcing his resignation, Schmidt apologized to Horn, who recently left the group, and revealed that he had been sexually molested by a paramedic at a boy scout camp as a 13-year-old boy.
Schmidt, who until recently denied knowing about the allegations against Weaver, said: "John Weaver took me back to this distant cabin with Ray, my scout leader. I'm white hot angry about it. I'm angry because I am I know the harm he has caused me, and I know the journey that lies ahead of any young man who trusts, fears, and abuses John Weaver. "
Some of those close to the group's donors declined to be named because they were concerned about retaliation from the leaders of the Lincoln Project and their allies.
Despite numerous reports to the contrary, The Lincoln Project – among its original members, the late 2008 presidential campaign chief of Senator John McCain, Schmidt, author and former George H.W. Bush campaign advisor Rick Wilson and conservative attorney George Conway have denied that he was aware of allegations of wrongdoing against Weaver until recently. The group condemned Weaver's conduct on January 31st.
Weaver told the New York Times in January that he was a closed-off gay man and that he "really felt sorry for these men and everyone and for abandoned so many people."
The Lincoln Project said Thursday that it is "retaining a top-notch outside professional to review Mr. Weaver's tenure with the organization and establish both accountability and best practices for the Lincoln Project".
The FBI is also investigating the allegations against Weaver, according to independent journalist Yashar Ali, who cited sources who claimed they were being contacted by agents.
The Lincoln Project did not respond to CNBC's follow-up requests for comment.
The group will continue to need financial support if it is to continue its stated mission of targeting pro-Trump politicians and the former president. The group reportedly tried to start a media company. There is already a live online show called "LPTV". A United Talent Agency representative, who reportedly held talks to increase the group's media exposure, did not respond to a request for comment.
The PAC raised over $ 87 million, much of it from several Democratic megadonors. Those in charge of the organization were so confident that some organizers told CNBC in May they wanted to reach out to billionaire and former presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg for a donation. Records show that Bloomberg didn't help.
Much of the Lincoln Project's spending went towards paying vendors owned by its executives. The group was founded in December 2019.
Donor Jen Pritzker, a member of the wealthy and influential Pritzker family, suggested that given the allegations against Weaver, they may stop giving money to the group. Pritzker contributed to the joint fundraising committee of President Joe Biden and other democratic groups.
"I believed in the Lincoln Project's mission and supported its efforts to prevent Donald Trump from being re-elected," Pritzker told CNBC in a statement. "As a donor, I trusted that my gift would be used to further support the organization's goals. Sexual misconduct cannot be tolerated by any organization. Anyone can be a victim, and these allegations should be handled in accordance with human rights law."
A spokeswoman for Pritzkers Tawani Enterprises said Pritzker hadn't made a decision as to whether she would make a contribution in the future.
Pritzker gave $ 100,000 to the Lincoln Project in October, Federal Election Commission records show. Another family member, John Pritzker, also gave the group $ 100,000. He did not respond to a request for comment.
When asked by CNBC whether Jeffrey Katzenberg would stop giving The Lincoln Project, an advisor to the Hollywood power player didn't rule it out. "Not our focus," said the consultant in an email. Katzenberg gave the PAC $ 100,000 in August. Katzenberg was also an important Biden bundler.
Meanwhile, CNBC has learned that two previous Lincoln project vendors will no longer work with the group.
Aaron, Thomas & Associates, who describes himself as a specialist in political direct mail, received over $ 90,000 from the group in September, records show. The company's work with the group stopped before the Weaver allegations surfaced, but the company has decided not to take any more business with The Lincoln Project.
"Absolutely not," replied founder Fred Thomas when asked by CNBC if it would work again with The Lincoln Project. "When we cited this work, we weren't even aware of what it was or for who it was. We broke it up with someone else anyway," he added, noting that his company "doesn't want to get negative results" in Mail . "
Anedot, a campaign donation processor used in The Lincoln Project's final election cycle, is closing its account with the group, according to a company official who refused to be named.
"Anedot was recently made aware of certain incidents that resulted in our account team informing the account owner that the account will be closed," the representative said.
The non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics says Anedot received fees of over $ 3 million in the 2020 cycle. The Anedot representative said he did not give any reasons for closing accounts.
In building its media business through The Lincoln Project, CNBC turned to Zeldavision, a livestream production company that received over $ 1 million from the group. The company promotes a partnership with the PAC. According to the Zeldavision website, it also appears to be helping to produce the Lincoln project's live content.
The company did not respond to the question of whether it would be the PAC in the future.
Tara Setmayer, who distinguishes herself as a senior advisor on her Twitter page and has hosted an LPTV show, said she was "dismayed and disappointed" by recent events surrounding the Lincoln project.
"It cannot be tolerated. More to say," added Setmayer.
– CNBC's Dan Mangan contributed to this report.