By Jim Miller
There’s been a lot of controversy lately about Lori Saldaña’s previously floundering County Board of Supervisors run getting a big money boost in the form of an independent expenditure campaign by the Lincoln Club, and while Doug Porter did a fine job of connecting the dots and explaining why both the Lincoln Club and the Working Families Council would be involved in a dark alliance to attack Nathan Fletcher and promote Saldaña, some folks wandering the barren landscape of social media still don’t seem to grok precisely how troubling these connections are for those inclined to support Saldaña, the self-proclaimed savior of the Democratic Party.
Thus, some history is in order.
As I outlined in my contribution to the “Who Rules San Diego” series that ran on the San Diego Free Press back in 2014:
[A] key player in the effort to preserve the hegemony of San Diego’s shadow government that deserves attention is the Lincoln Club, a stealthy nexus of economic and political power. In essence, the Lincoln Club is a political entity bent on maintaining San Diego’s de facto private government led by the local power elite in perpetuity by any means necessary.
While most folks are familiar with the goals and retrograde agenda of the Republican Party U.S.A., the Lincoln Club (which does much of the local Right’s bidding come election time) is still relatively unknown outside of political circles. As Kelly Davis noted in a recent SD CityBeat piece on the local branch of the club:
If money equals power, the Lincoln Club wields it like no other local political organization. Its 400 members, whose annual dues provide a guaranteed source of money for the group’s political action committee, are a who’s-who of lobbyists, developers, Republican-backed elected officials (and their staff members) and high-profile business owners—the people behind Mossy Nissan, Jerome’s Furniture and Coles Carpets sit on the club chairman’s special advisory committee. Though the Lincoln Club describes itself as nonpartisan and focused on “pro-prosperity” candidates and issues, what and whom it chooses to support is almost always partisan.
The reach of this exclusive “club” goes far beyond San Diego. As investigative journalist Matthew Fleischer tells us, the Lincoln Club has a long and influential history in right wing California politics. In addition to serving as the hit-man of the Republican Party, the club has also functioned as a king maker and was instrumental in bringing us the notorious Citizens United case:
Since the days of Richard Nixon, the Lincoln Club has been the Matrix-like ideological birthing chamber of California Republicanism, whose grandees and arbiters once guided Ronald Reagan, Pete Wilson, George Deukmejian and Arnold Schwarzenegger when their political careers were in their larval stages.
That same Lincoln Club gave us the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court victory—which paved the way for Super PACs and unlimited, anonymous corporate donations—and, over the past year, had been instrumental in pushing Proposition 32 onto the California ballot.
And the ultimate goal of the Lincoln Club is far from moderate or even vaguely democratic. Simply put, it is not so much a tool of the GOP as it is a weapon of plutocratic interests bent on buying our democracy lock stock and barrel from D.C. to San Diego. John MacMurry in the LA Progressive hits the nail on head:
The Lincoln Club . . . by opening up campaign contributions to individuals and groups who can give unlimited amounts of anonymous dollars, gets the undying gratitude of billionaires and large corporations, and the ability to buy control of any government in California—or all of them.
And for those of us who are neither billionaires nor large corporations?
It’s a lot like the old Jerry Reed song about who gets the gold mine and who just gets the shaft. And for most of us, the Lincoln Club has worked hard to make sure that not too much of the gold mine is headed our way.
Here in San Diego, the local right’s most recent strategy was to elect Kevin Faulconer as their tool in the mayor’s office so they could continue to use the initiative process as a way around our representative government by funding ballot measures aimed against the Barrio Logan Community Plan, the affordable housing fee, and the earned sick day/minimum wage ordinance recently passed by the City Council. Thus far, they have won every time and succeeded in neutering the power of representative government when it strays from serving elite interests.
So, with this history in mind, progressives should be wary of why the Lincoln Club would be targeting Democratic voters with pro-Saldaña messages while attacking one of her opponents. One might also wonder why a candidate like Saldaña, who fashions herself as someone taking on “the establishment,” would blithely acquiesce to such help without so much as a peep.
Anyone who has read this column knows that I was once an advocate of Saldaña’s campaign against Scott Peters for the House of Representatives. I was also one of Fletcher’s chief antagonists in the 2013 mayoral campaign.
But people change.
That’s why, back in October when local Republican operatives launched a website using my old columns to attack Fletcher, I made it clear that their move was “the usual political dishonesty that we should expect from the GOP from San Diego to Washington, D.C. Anybody who thinks I am in league with the local GOP has either never read a word I’ve written here or is simply not the sharpest tool in the shed. But just for the sake of clarity, let me echo Doug Porter: I support anyone BUT the Republican candidate in this race.”
I did this not just because I wanted to make it clear that I did not endorse the use of my old columns by the GOP, but because, as a recent Voice of San Diego piece noted, Fletcher had spent the years since his loss in the mayor’s race building relationships and working on a number of progressive issues. As I said in that October column, “Simply put, he’s done what he hadn’t done when he entered the mayor’s race as a Democrat in 2013—his due diligence.”
At the time, I argued that the rush to early endorsements was a mistake, but it was also an error to automatically push the reset button and instantly dismiss Fletcher’s second act noting that, “In the final analysis, calls for unity that seek to marginalize progressive voices should not be heeded but neither should we foreclose the possibility of political redemption. We need a lot more of it.”
Since then, Fletcher has run a solid campaign speaking to core Democratic issues and winning almost all the key Democratic constituency groups; Omar Passons has been a model of grace, dignity, and political substance despite getting edged out of early endorsements by both the Democratic Party and the Labor Council; and Lori Saldaña has run a nasty, revanchist, transparently hypocritical crusade against any group or person who had the temerity to not endorse her.
Saldaña and her crew of social media acolytes have made attacking large swaths of the progressive base and whataboutism in response to any criticism a central part of her campaign. If it were not for the huge sums of independent money being thrown in on her side, it would merely be yet another depressing example of San Diego’s toxic political environment, but, unfortunately, that money gives her a chance to do a lot of damage to the Democrats’ cause, burning bridges and trashing the progressive brand all the while.
Hence her political partnership with a dead-end labor splinter caucus whose solidarity killing mission is more about political revenge rather than any discernible principle makes perfect sense. Now she is happy as a clam to get aid and comfort from one of the biggest enemies of the progressive cause in the form of Lincoln Club mailers with her smiling face stamped on one side.
Progressive friends, the Lincoln Club means you ill. Don’t vote for the Democrat they are promoting. There are other well-qualified candidates who have not made a cynical deal with the devil while simultaneously proclaiming their purity.
In sum, the best thing that could happen in this race is for this hope-crushing alliance to go down in flames because, if it doesn’t, you can expect more of the same rightwing money seeking to intervene in Democratic politics in the future. And the Lincoln Club will be laughing all the way to the bank after they turn their political guns in the other direction and help defeat Saldaña in the fall.
The wise course of action here is to think strategically and reject their favored candidate.
Just say NO to Lori Saldaña.