Lincoln Project's Executive Director Filed for Bankruptcy as He Joined Group

Fred Wellman, whose previous workplace was described as 'definition of a toxic work environment,' tasked with getting 'house in order' at scandal-plagued PAC

Fred Wellman / YouTube screenshot
March 18, 2021

In January, the political consultant Fred Wellman parachuted in to save the scandal-plagued Lincoln Project, taking over as executive director. He had filed for bankruptcy just five months earlier, citing hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid liabilities, according to records reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon.

A longtime associate of Lincoln Project cofounder Steve Schmidt, Wellman joined the Lincoln Project in July 2020 as a senior adviser for veterans affairs and was promoted to executive director earlier this year. The same month that he joined the multimillion-dollar super PAC, Wellman declared more than $715,129 in debts and $53,418 in declared assets, bankruptcy documents show.

Wellman took the helm at the Lincoln Project as it was rocked by internal scandals spurred by accusations that its founders used donor cash for personal gain and revelations that cofounder John Weaver had for years preyed upon young men, working to trade professional advancement for sexual favors.

The anti-Trump organization used much of the whopping $87 million it raised during the 2020 election to enrich its own top officials: Cofounder Rick Wilson paid off a hefty mortgage and Schmidt scooped up a seven-figure mountain condo in Park City, Utah.

Enter Wellman, who was tapped, the Lincoln Project said, to set things straight. The organization announced in mid-February that it was launching an outside probe to review Weaver's tenure. It is unclear what role Wellman, who has described Schmidt as a "mentor," will play in a review that is likely to examine Schmidt's culpability for a toxic professional culture. His bankruptcy filing also raises questions about the feasibility of rebooting and rebranding the organization as questions about its use of donor funds swirl.

The July 28, 2020 filing shows that the bulk of Wellman's debt came from three unpaid business loans totaling $477,904, and from $116,575 in unpaid taxes. His listed assets included a 2015 Mercedes C300, an Xbox, $27,870 in retirement accounts, and $1,198 worth of cash and money deposits. Wellman told the court that his monthly expenses, which included a nearly $1,000 payment for the car and $4,824 to an ex-wife, exceeded his monthly income as CEO of ScoutComms, a veteran-focused communications firm. The court discharged a majority of his debts on November 9, 2020.

The bankruptcy, Wellman's second chapter 7 filing, came as he shut down his company ScoutComms. According to an August interview, Wellman closed the firm with no plans for a next step, but landed a job at the Lincoln Project shortly thereafter thanks to Schmidt.

"When I recently ended ScoutComms, I reached out to my mentors, and Steve Schmidt's been a mentor for many years," Wellman told Battle Borne.

After leaving a voicemail asking for advice, Schmidt called with a job offer. Wellman described a less-than-rigorous interview process this way: "He calls me back on a Saturday night at 10 p.m. and says, 'I didn't listen to your voicemail, I know you closed the company, you're coming to work for us,'" Wellman said of Schmidt. "I was like, 'Okay!'—and I was hired."

His promotion to executive director from veterans adviser, Wellman said, came after he sent a text message to the Lincoln Project board of directors the night before the inauguration inquiring about the position. He landed the job the next morning.

Wellman has said his business background suits him to helping the Lincoln Project evolve from an election project into a long-lasting organization.

"I think there was an opportunity for someone like me who ran a business for 10 years to come in and apply a lot of those business metrics and business approaches to how we transition the Lincoln Project," Wellman said during a live broadcast of Lincoln Project TV on March 9.

It is unclear whether the Lincoln Project did any vetting of Wellman's business record. The group did not respond to a request for comment.

But public reviews on Glassdoor, a website where employees provide anonymous feedback on their workplaces, describe ScoutComms as a poorly managed company and a miserable place to work. Five of the six reviews give the company the lowest possible score, describing it as "the definition of a toxic work environment."

"Mansplaining, gaslighting, toxic masculinity abound," wrote one reviewer in May 2019. "Do not try to bring this up with management, you will be yelled at and demeaned."

Another review posted the same month complained of a "toxic, abusive management led by an ego-driven CEO" with "a pattern of disregarding opinions outside of management that lead to egregious mistakes, hiring inexperienced, unqualified family members overqualified candidates."

"Be warned the leadership does not implement proper employee reviews; likely due to a complete lack of accountability on all levels in the organization," another reviewer said. "Advice to management: ScoutComms is not well managed. There must be mandatory 3rd party leadership/personnel management training for ALL senior staff."

Other complaints include that "company money is spent unwisely" and that staff is "consistently demeaned." The company's only positive review came from a former intern.

Wellman, the founder and CEO of ScoutComms, said he closed the doors because of the coronavirus pandemic after the business received a $91,500 government loan through the Republican-backed Paycheck Protection Program.

"The global pandemic that has devastated so much of our world and nation, including the loss of over 130,000 American lives, will unfortunately also claim ScoutComms," he said in a July 8 message to clients.

In a memo sent to Lincoln Project staffers last month, Wellman said he was "committed to fixing" the "internal workplace concerns that have come to light," which he described as "troubling and disturbing." He told employees he would "institute the right formula for success and address the critical concerns that have surfaced about the organization."

Wellman also announced that he would produce a "Stewardship Report" to show donors that their contributions were being spent responsibly.

Hours after the Free Beacon reached out to the Lincoln Project for comment, Wellman took to Twitter to preempt reporting on his financial history, though he did not comment on the allegations leveled against his now-defunct company. Wellman said his most recent bankruptcy was due to "a lot of mistakes" made as he tried to "save the firm," which he says started to tank in 2017 as he dealt with PTSD.

"Things started fading in 2017 with a downturn in business and a mental health crisis around my PTSD that I'd ignored," Wellman wrote. In the end, he says his business failure makes him a better executive today.

"I had to file Chapter 7 for the business debt and still owe back taxes," he wrote. "I learned from those mistakes as much as I've learned from any of my successes. It makes me a better executive director because I've got the scars to prove it today."

Published under: Feature