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Lincoln Project paid ex-Obama spokesman’s consulting firm to appeal to Black voters in Pennsylvania

The anti-Trump Lincoln Project paid a consulting firm run by former Obama deputy press secretary Bill Burton to conduct a Black voter outreach program in Pennsylvania, which turned out to be the decisive state in the 2020 election.

The super PAC paid $1.5 million to the firm, BG Causes LLC, during the 2020 election cycle, according to data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Federal Election Commission filings show that the two $750,000 checks sent to BG Causes in October were intended for “voter outreach services.”

BG Causes runs the federal political activities of Bryson Gillette, the consulting firm Burton founded last year, the former Obama spokesman told CNBC. He also provided details on the Black voter outreach effort that was at least partially funded by the Lincoln Project.

The relationship between Burton’s firm and the Lincoln Project had not been reported. It is the latest glimpse into the financial dealings of the super PAC, which was founded by Republicans and conservatives who were dedicated to defeating former President Donald Trump in 2020.

The Lincoln Project’s original goal was to persuade conservatives, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in swing states to vote against him. The PAC launched in December 2019.

The anti-Trump group has come under scrutiny after one of its co-founders, John Weaver, was accused of sexual misconduct. Several people, including critics and supporters of the group, have since been calling for transparency on its finances.

The committee was founded by a group of anti-Trump Republicans and independents, including former John McCain presidential campaign chief Steve Schmidt, author and former George H.W. Bush campaign advisor Rick Wilson and conservative lawyer George Conway.

Burton has past ties to Schmidt as the two advised former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz when he was considering an independent run for president. Schmidt recently stepped down from Lincoln Project’s board.

Conway, who is no longer with the group, tweeted on Wednesday “there must still be accountability and transparency for the handling of the Weaver fiasco, as well as of [LP’s] finances.” CNBC previously reported that another co-founder, Reed Galen, ran a dark money group known as Project Yellowstone.

Galen’s group acted as a partner organization of the Lincoln Project. Donors have been slowly backing away from the super PAC since the allegations against Weaver became public.

The Lincoln Project said in a statement on Monday that it 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.

On Thursday, Politico published an internal Lincoln Project memo detailing the group’s next steps, including giving contributors a report “that will break down expenditures so that our donors understand how we spent their contributions.” A press representative for the Lincoln Project did not return a request for comment.

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.”

BG stands for Bryson Gillette and the limited liability company’s address in California matches that of the original firm, Burton said.

BG Causes used the money it received from the Lincoln Project to create a program that encouraged Black voters to head to the polls in the Keystone State, Burton added. Burton said his group, along with others that worked on the project, created TV and digital ads in support of this effort. President Joe Biden went on to win Pennsylvania.

The program, Burton says, included a focus on creating and pushing out ads on the website,

While the website is currently inactive, a search on the internet archive Wayback Machine gives a glimpse into the funding and the operations side of the voter outreach program.

The archived website says it was paid for by Black Vote PA, a super PAC with a mailing address in Arizona, Federal Election Commission records say. The records also show that BG Causes took the two $750,000 payments from the Lincoln Project and contributed it to the Black Vote PA super PAC as an in-kind donation.

That in-kind donation included services such as “radio, TV, digital communications and management consulting compliance,” records show. The group Indivisible defines in-kind donations as “a contribution, like goods or services, other than cash.”

The Black Vote PA funded website features guidelines for Pennsylvania voters on how they could participate in the 2020 election, including voting by mail.

The website highlights a video featuring Major League Baseball star Andrew McCutchen. The video shows the Philadelphia Phillies outfielder, who is Black, giving tips on how voters can mail in their ballot during the coronavirus pandemic.

A 15-second ad paid for by Black Vote PA appears at the bottom of the webpage. It features a previous Trump rally where the former president said “look at my African American over here.” The ad responds to Trump by saying “We are not your African Americans, Donald” and called on those watching to go vote.

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