Never-Trump charity paid millions to firm run by its executive director, FEC records show


A Never-Trump advocacy group paid millions of dollars over three years to a communications firm owned by its executive director, public records show.

Defending Democracy Together (DDT), a 501(c)(4) anti-Trump organization founded to fight the purported “nativist and authoritarian impulses” in the Republican Party, has paid over $10.6 million to the communications firm Longwell Partners since 2020 for services ranging from management to research, according to tax documents and Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings.

Sarah Longwell, the executive director of DDT, is the president and CEO of Longwell Partners, according to the websites of both organizations.

Longwell owned at least 35% of Longwell Partners as of 2022according to DDT tax filings. DDT delegated its A close-up of a signDescription automatically generatedmanagement duties to Longwell’s firm in 2020, 2021 and 2022, according to tax forms. It is unknown if this arrangement persisted in 2023 as DDT has not yet released its tax forms for that year.

Other services provided by Longwell Partners to DDT included research, advertising, media relations, program management, accounting and financial management, among other things, tax forms show.

Payments to Longwell’s firm took up 12.7% of DDT’s revenue in 2020, or about $4.8 million, tax documents show. In 2021, 19.5% of DDT’s revenue, or about $2.6 million, went to Longwell Partners with that figure rising to more than $2.9 million in 2022, or 32.1% of DDT’s revenue.

DDT, Republican Accountability PAC and Longwell Partners did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Sarah Longwell could not be reached for comment.

“The generous fees paid by Defending Democracy Together to a for-profit firm owned by Longwell are definitely cause for concern,” Capital Research Center investigative researcher Parker Thayer told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

“The use of an in-house for-profit management firm by PACs and nonprofits is mostly an expeditious way to handle complex inter-organization management fees for groups that collaborate and have overlapping staff, but it is also a very convenient way for groups to avoid disclosing payments to personnel and firms that would otherwise need to be reported individually,” Thayer said.

Doug White, a nonprofit ethics expert, told the DCNF that the arrangement between organizations Longwell directs and her communications firm raises ethical concerns.

“She benefits as part owner of the for-profit that is paid by the nonprofit and super PAC she runs,” White said. “It’s a conflict of interest.”

White said that the payments “might be legal, but she should be forthright and transparent about the conflict, and explain, without being asked, why another communications firm can’t be used.”

DDT noted that at least one of its officers was required to disclose conflicts of interest on its 2020, 2021 and 2022 tax forms. The specifics of how that conflict of interest was resolved, however, were not included in DDT’s tax filings.

DDT does not “make its governing documents, conflict of interest policy and financial statements available for public inspection,” the firm’s tax filings state.

DDT and Longwell Partners also share the same address, according to the former’s tax forms and the latter’s website.

On top of the millions DDT sent to Longwell’s communications firm, the group also paid her an additional $12,000 a year for five hours of work per week in 2021 and 2022, according to tax documents.

DDT has been active in the 2024 election cycle, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to boost former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and opposing Trump in the Republican presidential primary, FEC records show. The group also launched a campaign to get Republicans to support funding for Ukraine.

The organization is well-funded, bringing in $37.7 million in 2020, $13.6 million in 2021 and $9 million in 2022, according to tax forms. Much of the organization’s funding comes from traditionally left-of-center donors.

DDT received over $10 million from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a Democrat-aligned dark money group, between 2020 and 2022. Democracy Fund Voice, an organization funded and founded by eBay co-founder and liberal donor Pierre Omidyar, sent DDT $4.4 million between 2018 and 2021, tax filings show.

Omidyar’s philanthropic network gave out $1.2 billion between 2004 and 2020, primarily to left-of-center groups, according to a Capital Research Center analysis. Omidyar has a history of donating to other anti-Trump efforts.

Longwell also serves as the president of the Republican Accountability PAC, another anti-Trump political organization that’s spent over $1.2 million opposing the former president’s re-election bid since 2023, according to FEC records. The PAC also paid millions to Longwell Partners.

Republican Accountability PAC paid over $2.9 million to Longwell Partners between July 2022 and December 2023, according to FEC records. Republican Accountability PAC also shares office space with Longwell Partners and DDT, according to its website.

Republican Accountability PAC describes itself as an organization representing “Republicans and conservatives who want the party to move on from Donald Trump.”

Republican Accountability PAC, like DDT, has also attracted interest from traditional liberal donors. Democratic megadonor and Jeffrey Epstein associate Reid Hoffman, for instance, has given the group millions since 2022, FEC records show.

 

The Lincoln Project, a super PAC founded by former GOP operatives “to defeat Donald Trump” that has spent over $33.6 million in independent expenditures opposing the former president since 2020, also steered a sizable portion of its revenue to firms owned by its co-founders.

Tusk Digital and Summit Strategic Communications, digital marketing firms run by Lincoln Project co-founders Ron Steslow and Reed Galen, respectively, collectively received over $16.3 million from the super PAC between 2019 and 2023, according to FEC disbursement records.

Lincoln Project co-founder Steve Schmidt regularly referred to the organization as his way to gain “generational wealth,” according to anonymous interviews with former and current employees. Schmidt paid himself a handsome salary from the super PAC’s treasury, according to The New York Times.

George Conway, one of The Lincoln Project’s co-founders, said in March 2021 that the organization “should shut down, absent full disclosure of its finances.”

“There’s simply too much money that hasn’t been accounted for, and, I fear, never will be,” he continued.

Schmidt and Galen resigned from the Lincoln Project in 2021 following controversy surrounding the PAC’s handling of allegations that John Weaver, another one of its co-founders, engaged in sexual misconduct against more than 20 young men.

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