What Happened When I Infiltrated One of the Most Secretive and Powerful Republican Organizations in the Country
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“Oy,” I say, laying it on thick, “a schlep indeed. No traffic, thank heavens.”
“So what brings you all the way down here, Allen?”
“Well,” I tell Hernandez, “if you want to become active in the conservative movement in California, this is the place. The Lincoln Club of Orange County is playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers.”
This too, is true. 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. (The measure would permanently gut the clout of California’s unions by prohibiting automatic payroll deductions from being used for political purposes.)
“Well…that’s good,” Hernandez replies, suddenly uninterested and looking for an exit strategy. I wasn’t ready to let her go.
“So, how are the Prop. 32 efforts looking?” I ask, opening my eyes as wide as possible in my best simulacrum of Republican excitement. “Does it still have a shot?”
Her face immediately brightens: “We’re up to $60 million. We’re outspending them now! I think we’re going to do it.”
With that, more attendees filter in and Hernandez excuses herself to greet them. Many, quite honestly, seem like wealthy retirees with little else to do, although there are some GOP farm league players too, including Garden Grove city council candidate Phat Bui.
But make no mistake: The Lincoln Club is the real deal. And if they have their way, Citizens United is just the beginning of their political ambitions for the country.
Kingmaker of Southland Republicans
When Richard Nixon famously declared, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore,” after losing the 1962 California Governor’s race to Pat Brown, he may also have been predicting the future of his state’s Republican Party. The social revolution of the ’60s would eventually render the party a shrinking minority in an increasingly liberal state. But a group of Orange County businessmen, spurred on by Nixon’s defeat, vowed to never let a champion of conservative values suffer such an embarrassing defeat in California again. Lead by Walter Knott, the founder of Knott’s Berry Farm, and Si Fluor of the Fluor Corporation, they formed the Lincoln Club of Orange County to advocate for the interests of the business community–and the club has been playing kingmaker of Southland Republicans with grand ambitions ever since.
In 1978, the Lincoln Club helped launch the landmark California anti-tax initiative Proposition 13—which capped property taxes at an absurdly low rate and demanded all future tax raises in the state be approved by the legislature by a two-thirds margin. The initiative portended the anti-tax revolution that hangs over the country to this day.
Through the 1990s and early aughts, the Lincoln Club made several attempts to pass “paycheck protection” measures in California—which would have banned unions from taking automatic dues from members. These failed miserably, as voters were sophisticated enough to realize they spelled the political death of California’s 2.5 million union members
In 2007, with union power still too strong for any massive statewide overhauls, the Lincoln Club set their sites on the national election fray, by providing seed money for Hillary: The Movie—an anti-Hillary Clinton political documentary/screed they hoped would ultimately lead to a John McCain presidential victory in 2008. They were even given an executive producer credit on the film.