EXCLUSIVE: Leaked Twitter Messages Reveal Lincoln Project Paid $1.5M to Firm Linked to ex-Obama Staffer Bill Burton

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

It’s a question many people have asked: How were Rick Wilson and Steve Schmidt compensated by The Lincoln Project, assuming that they were? Considering how visible the two were as co-founders of the PAC and the amount of time it seemed they spent on Lincoln Project initiatives, it’s reasonable to assume they’d want some type of compensation for their time.

While the other co-founders (save George Conway) were paid consulting fees either directly or through their corporations, Schmidt and Wilson were not. As I reported Saturday, Schmidt was paid $1.5 million through his SES Strategies by the Lincoln Project in December 2020, but returned the payment about two weeks later.

In a series of Twitter direct messages published by the Lincoln Project Thursday night, former member/co-founder Jennifer Horn and reporter Amanda Becker discussed a number of topics. Horn began by telling Becker that her departure had nothing to do with compensation and that “they have all made in the millions,” presumably referring to her male co-founders.

After some further conversation, Becker says to Horn:

“Whenever you can talk, I am interested in the entities via which Wilson and Schmidt got paid. I think I have found the latter but unclear whether they were also via Galen’s. Compared to what it looks like you were getting – a $10k a month salary – it is a tenfolds difference several times over.”

Horn wishes Becker good luck and says that the Lincoln Project is attempting to intimidate/silence her and that after Becker’s July 2020 Glamour article criticizing the Lincoln Project came out  they thought Horn had spoken to Becker and that John Weaver “gave [her] hell,” but that she gave him hell right back.

Horn tells Becker that, “It’s another story altogether, but… Steve wants to run for Senate against Lee,” meaning Mike Lee of Utah. Becker replies as most of us would, “lol,” then says, “Maybe if more of this money can be traced that will end before it starts.”

Horn replies:

“You need a full audit of Summit Strategies to do that. You should also be asking how much $$ was funneled to the management partnership between Steve, Rick, Reed, and Weaver. I can’t prove it but I’m sure they used LP $ to pay Weaver right up until last month.”

That’s a bombshell, if true. It’s stunning that Lincoln Project thought tweeting these screenshots with so much negative information was somehow a “gotcha” on Horn. In the same screenshot, however, Becker refers to Rick Wilson having blocked her on Twitter, so whomever composed the tweet for the Lincoln Project used that line to cast Becker’s motivation as a vendetta against Wilson – proving Horn right when she said immediately above the blocking comment that, “They instinctively go nuclear every time. There is no room for reason.”

Anyway, back to the money. A management partnership?

It’s apparent from Becker’s comments that she has already done quite a bit of digging into Lincoln Project’s finances. The screenshot is difficult to read, but among the things Becker says to Horn:

“Did the mgmt partnership money go thru yet another LLC? The California LLC was registered in June and started getting a flat $750k a quarter. For ‘voter outreach.’

“The registered agent is a woman who works with Bill Burton. So either they were paying Burton and he didn’t want to be publicly affiliated (I’ve asked him) or someone at his firm did Schmidt a favor after working together briefly in the Schultz campaign….

“I think Madrid has some of these answers. But signed an NDA.”

Since I spent many hours last week looking through Lincoln Project’s expenditures for the last cycle, I immediately remembered there were a couple of corporations paid more than a million dollars and I was unable to quickly determine ownership. One of those was BG Causes, LLC. After seeing that screenshot I went back to Lincoln Project’s FEC report and, sure enough, BG Causes, LLC received two $750,000 payments from Lincoln Project. Both were in October 2020 and were for voter outreach.

A search of California’s corporate records revealed that BG Causes, LLC was incorporated in Delaware on June 2, 2020, and was registered as a foreign LLC in California on June 5, 2020. The street address listed on that filing is 10 East Yanonali Street in Santa Barbara, which is the location of a Davinci Virtual Office branch. According to its website, Davinci provides both mail receipt and mail forwarding services to its clients. So, Lincoln Project could mail checks to that address and they would be immediately forwarded to whatever address BG Causes officials provided.

On both its Delaware and California filings BG Causes list CT Corporation System as the registered agent, but the California paperwork is signed by Sarah Angel as the person “authorized to sign on behalf of the foreign LLC.”

Sarah Angel indeed works with Bill Burton; she is an attorney and Senior Vice President of Bryson Gillette, a public affairs firm Burton (a Democrat strategist and former Deputy Press Secretary in the Obama administration) launched in 2020.

Does the “BG” in BG Causes, LLC stand for Bryson Gillette?

Santa Barbara seems like a random locale for this new enterprise. Certainly Lincoln Project wasn’t wasting money on voter outreach in Southern California in their attempt to oust Donald Trump. Coincidentally, while Bill Burton’s business is based in Los Angeles, he lives in Santa Barbara, according to his bio.

Since 2015, Bill has made Santa Barbara his home with his wife Kelly Ward Burton and three kids, Oscar, Emma, and Miles. Bill loves playing guitar and teaching his son to play basketball.

Schmidt isn’t the only Lincoln Project co-founder Burton is familiar with. Burton appeared in a panel discussion in Sacramento in January 2020 with Mike Madrid, talking about how terrible it would be for Donald Trump to be re-elected. Burton and Madrid are also connected through former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Villaraigosa was a client of Burton’s at SKDKnickerbocker, and Madrid was Villaraigosa’s consultant during his 2018 run for California governor.

It should be noted that in the screenshots reviewed Horn didn’t affirmatively state that the California LLC Becker mentioned was indeed the management partnership to which she referred, and at this point the only link between Bill Burton and BG Causes LLC is through his Senior Vice President, Sarah Angel, who is also an attorney in California.

Clearly, unless BG Causes LLC decides to open up their books and reveal who the members of the LLC are and who was paid for “voter outreach,” no one can be certain if those who benefited from the $1.5 million received from the Lincoln Project included any of its co-founders. It’s difficult to imagine that a corporation that was only created in June 2020 and whose only paid work (there are a string of odd in-kind contributions and receipts from three newly-created PACs that all have the same treasurer detailed in FEC records) was from the Lincoln Project didn’t have some type of connection to the PAC’s higher-ups.