Contact: Tony Manolatos

619-549-0137 |

Lincoln Club Endorses 3 Judicial Candidates

Berry, Miller and Peed get the nod following a new rigorous
vetting process the Club established

March 13, 2012
Contact: Tony Manolatos, 619.549.0137

SAN DIEGO: The Lincoln Club of San Diego County has endorsed three candidates running for San Diego County Superior Court judge following a new vetting process that included panel interviews.

The Club’s judicial endorsements went to:

•David Berry for Seat 24
•Jim Miller for Seat 25
•Garland Peed for Seat 34

Prior to granting the endorsements on March 9, the Club’s PAC formed a subcommittee to vet the judicial candidates. The subcommittee was comprised of eight members, all attorneys, who designed a questionnaire for the judicial candidates and interviewed them as a group to try and gauge what their temperament would be like on the bench.

This was the first time a special questionnaire and panel interviews were used to vet candidates, said T.J. Zane, President and CEO of the Lincoln Club of San Diego County.

“In the last election, in 2010, we nearly endorsed a candidate that was rated “not-qualified” by the San Diego County Bar Association,” Zane said. “It became clear to us that a more thorough and rigorous vetting process should be put in place.”

The subcommittee’s recommendations were approved by the PAC and ultimately the full board.

Larry Stirling, a former Superior Court Judge and state Senator, chaired the subcommittee. 


"I’m pleased the Lincoln Club made the changes it did to ensure it is only recommending judicial candidates after a full vetting process," Stirling said. "I was proud to be a part of the subcommittee and I feel very good about the work we did and the candidates we endorsed. The committee was guided solely by determining the most qualified candidate."

Zane added: “Numerous San Diegans look to the Lincoln Club to see who it endorsed before casting their votes, so it’s very important that the Club set a high standard for endorsements.”

The Lincoln Club of San Diego County is a pro-prosperity PAC whose mission is to advance free market principles and ideas by recruiting, endorsing and financing business-friendly candidates and ballot measures that reflect the Club’s commitment to responsible public policy, the expansion of economic opportunity and an enhanced quality of life throughout San Diego County.

Bensoussan seeks Lincoln Club endorsement

— A key committee of the pro-business Lincoln Club has recommended endorsement of Chula Vista Councilwoman Pamela Bensoussan, a Democrat.


The recommendation is pending board approval later this month.


Bensoussan, an incumbent running for a Chula Vista council seat, also has the endorsement of the San Diego County Democratic Party, the Chula Vista Democratic Club, and the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council.


Lincoln Club spokesman Tony Manolatos said Bensoussan recently spoke with the club's PAC committee, before about 50 people, and a majority voted to support her.


"The Lincoln Club endorses pro-prosperity candidates, people who are fiscally conservative and prudent with tax-dollars," Manolatos said. "Several candidates came in and spoke, and the committee was obviously impressed with her."


Manolatos cautioned that the endorsement has not been finalized, and that the board doesn't always ratify the committee's recommendations.


If approved later this month, it wouldn't be first time the Lincoln Club and the Labor Council have agreed on a candidate. San Diego Councilman Tony Young and San Diego schools trustee Scott Barnett were endorsed by both entities, which often have competing interests.


Bensoussan is running in a non-partisan race against Robert Castaneda, another Democrat and brother of Councilman Steve Castaneda. President of the Chula Vista Taxpayers Association Larry Breitfelder, a Republican, is also in the race.


Breitfelder said the potential Lincoln Club endorsement is another example of strong San Diego interests playing a hand in Chula Vista politics.


"That happened because I care and I'm loyal to Chula Vista. Some people are clearly more loyal to San Diego interest groups." Breitfelder said.


Manolatos said Bensoussan was picked over Breitfelder because "the Lincoln Club is not the Republican Party of San Diego County. The group doesn't always endorse the Republican in a race. They pick the candidate they feel is going to best represent the taxpayers."


According to the latest campaign filings available, Bensoussan raised $12,622 since July and spent $2,724 on the race so far. Breitfelder raised $11,456, which included loaning his campaign $5,000, and spent $8,894 during the same time period. Castaneda, who entered the race more recently, has not yet reported campaign finance activity.


Breitfelder, a former Otay Water District board member, has been endorsed by the Chula Vista Police Officers Association, and some founders and leaders of Crossroads II, a civic activist group, along with former Police Chief Bill Winters. Developer Tom Sudberry, and Chula Vista political powerhouse Earl Jentz have contributed to his campaign, according to latest filings.


A campaign committee "Anyone but Bensoussan" has been set up opposing Bensoussan's reelection.


First elected in 2008, Bensoussan has become a strong ally of Republican Mayor Cheryl Cox on a contentious council.


At a recent reception welcoming Southwestern President Melinda Nish, Cox said of Bensoussan, "I wish I could say she's my right-hand man, but because she sits to my left, I'll have to say, she's my left-hand woman on the council."; 619-293-1743; Twitter: @utsdFry

Super PACs: Politically Speaking

View more videos at:

Advocates ‘Kick Off’ Campaign to Pass CPR

Supporters already raised over $1 million

By Lauren Steussy
|  Monday, Mar 5, 2012  |  Updated 2:57 PM PDT
T.J. Zane, president of the Lincoln Club of San Diego County, a major backer of the Comprehensive Pension Reform Initiative, and Michael Zucchet, general manager of the city's largest organized labor group, the Municipal Employees Association talk with NBC 7's Gene Cubbison.

T.J. Zane, president of the Lincoln Club of San Diego County, a major backer of the Comprehensive Pension Reform Initiative, and Michael Zucchet, general manager of the city's largest organized labor group, the Municipal Employees Association talk with NBC 7's Gene Cubbison.

The controversial Comprehensive Pension Reform measure is going forward with over $1 million in campaign funds in the hopes of securing enough votes to pass.


Supporters will meet at Phil’s BBQ Monday evening to kick off another round of campaigning. They hope to raise another million dollars in the time between now and the June 5 election.


The first surge of the campaign – the “qualification campaign” was held up by a stream of lawsuits, said San Diego Lincoln Club President TJ Zane.


Now, they've entered the "passage campaign," in which they will focus on getting the votes needed to pass the measure in June.


“We’re looking forward to kicking off the second campaign by reaching out to voters,” Zane said.


The Comprehensive Pension Reform measure (CPR) was designed to tackle the city’s municipal pension fund shortfall. It would transition city employees from the current pension system to a 401(k) type of retirement contribution. It may also freeze pensionable pay for new city employees for 5 years.


The measure faces strong opposition from most Democrats and labor advocates.


In December 2011, mayoral candidate and attorney Hud Collins filed a lawsuit against the CPR, arguing the initiative isn’t an amendment to the city charter, but rather a charter revision.


Then, in February 13 of this year, local labor unions teamed up with the state’s Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) to file an official complaint against the initiative.
Both lawsuits were struck down.


Zane says with the $1.1 million already raised in support of the measure, they’ll be able to reach out to voters through many mediums.


He expects the campaign will be able to raise the first third of its $1 million goal by March 17.

Land of the Lincoln Club

For conservative political group, money speaks volumes

By Kelly Davis

TJZANE T.J. Zane speaks at a press conference in 2010 to oppose a proposed half-cent sales-tax increase
- Photo by Kelly Davis
If you want to get a sense of what the Lincoln Club of San Diego County’s all about, watch the promotional video on the group’s website. Over an ominous soundtrack of staccato violins, a male voice tells an American Dream-like tale of the club’s growth from “humble origins” in 1983 to become the county's “the single most effective political action committee.” Words like “battle,” “resurgence” and “game-changing” pervade the narrative.

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.


“In many ways, the Lincoln Club is the Republican Party in San Diego County. Without them, you would not have [Mayor Jerry] Sanders, you would not have [Councilmember Lorie] Zapf. A lot of electeds need them in order to get to where they are,” said Steve Rivera, who managed the campaign of Howard Wayne, Zapf’s opponent, in 2010. “In many ways, they’ve followed the model of most conservative organizations, in which you don’t plan for the next battle, you plan for the next war.”


Initially called the Golden Eagle Club when it started nearly three decades ago, the Lincoln Club, said former President Scott Barnett, was “moribund” when he took the helm in 2002.


“It was pretty much dead when I got there,” he said, “and T.J. [Zane] has moved the club to be a higher, more significant player.”


Zane, 39, was hired by the club in 2007. During his tenure, the Lincoln Club was party to a lawsuit that successfully sought to end local restrictions on campaign spending and also launched a separate slate-mailer committee. In 2010, that committee spent more than $300,000 on mailers described in the club’s promotional video as “innovative.”


Wayne was a target of a series of unusually large, tabloid-size mailers.


“The postman, in order to get the mail to fit in the mailbox, they’d usually get the other mail, slip it into the tabloid, fold the tabloid over and then put the tabloid sheet with all the other mail into the mailbox,” Rivera said. “So, whenever someone got their mail, the first thing they would see is the tabloid sheet because all their mail was inside it.”


Though slate mailers traditionally include a long list of candidates, the Lincoln Club took advantage of a federal election rule that says mailers need to include only four items, one of which must be a ballot measure. The rules say nothing about whether those items must be given equal space. One 12-by-15-inch mailer devoted an entire side to an attack on Wayne, who was running to replace termed-out Councilmember Donna Frye, describing him as a “Big-Spending Liberal” and prominently featuring Zapf on the other side. Three much smaller boxes highlight two other candidates and one ballot measure.


“The Lincoln Club dropped, I think, 35 or 38 hit pieces in the last two weeks,” Rivera said. “In my time here in San Diego, you don’t see that. Zapf was their person. They were willing to go to the mat for her, and they did. To put out that kind of mail—they were throwing everything and the kitchen sink at Howard. It was just saturation. I haven’t seen anything like that because it’s been very cost-prohibitive.”


Political consultant John Dadian said the club is most successful when it targets its resources.


“Strategically I’ve seen the Lincoln Club mature over the years—that instead of trying to spread out their influence, they have been laser-like in keeping their focus on one or two important issues.”


Right now, that focus is on Comprehensive Pension Reform (CPR), a measure on the June ballot that would close the city of San Diego’s pension system to most new employees and instead put those employees into a 401(k)style retirement plan. CPR would also, for five years, freeze the portion of city workers’ pay that's factored into their pensions.


Dogging the measure are not only questions about its true cost-savings claims, but also the issue of its origins. The city’s white-collar labor union has filed a legal challenge arguing that Mayor Sanders used his authority and city resources to get the measure on the ballot but then dodged the state’s collective-bargaining law by getting three San Diego voters to sponsor the initiative. Those three voters were Zane, Lincoln Club treasurer April Boling and club chairman Steve Williams. And while CPR’s supporters point to the 116,000 signatures that placed the measure on the ballot, those signatures ended up costing more than $8 each. According to its most recent disclosure, the Lincoln Club contributed $270,374 to the CPR campaign in 2011.


Zane isn’t paid a salary by the Lincoln Club; instead, he charges a consulting fee through his company, PAC Management & Consulting, Inc. Campaign disclosures show that the Lincoln Club paid PAC Management $130,000 in 2010 and $136,000 in 2011. The Lincoln Club paid Zane’s wife’s business, Affairz Consulting, $14,500 last year and $15,700 in 2010, according to campaign disclosures. Zane, who would respond to CityBeat’s questions only in writing, said the board negotiated a contract with his wife in 2009 to provide meeting and event-planning services.


“The negotiation was completely independent of my involvement; the terms were fair and reasonable.”


Zane said he wasn’t paid separately to consult on CPR. “My consulting fee for the Club was for overall management services. The Political Reform Act requires that the value of service in support of an initiative be reported as an in-kind contribution…. Since a portion of my time was spent on CPR, it was reported in this manner.”


Lorena Gonzalez, secretary-treasurer and CEO of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, said that while there’s nothing unethical about Zane being a sponsor of CPR and also working for one of the initiative’s major backers, voters should be aware of the relationship.


“Not only is he the consultant, but he actually runs the PAC,” she said.


The Lincoln Club, Gonzalez said, is part of a larger ecosystem of well-heeled interests that have money to spend and, now, fewer restrictions on how it’s spent.


“Look, everybody involved in the Lincoln Club and giving money to the Lincoln Club… they’re also giving to a number of other organizations that are hitting the same way. On the left, you have the [Democratic Party] maybe and labor. And sometimes maybe an environmental group.”


The committee opposing CPR, sponsored by the labor council, spent $153,819 in 2011. By compari son, the committee supporting CPR spent more than $1.15 million.


Gil Cabrera, former chair of the city’s Ethics Commission, who’s debated Zane publicly about campaign-finance restrictions, said the left’s own ideology is what allows groups like the Lincoln Club to wield so much influence.


“Most Democrats have a fundamental problem with this much money,” Cabrera said. “So, I think they have a hard time figuring out what to do with it. Do they just stand on principal and try to reform the system and don’t participate in it? Or do you participate in it while you’re still trying to reform the system, which makes you kind of hypocritical—which I think is the hard time the Dems are having with it.”

Email or follow her on Twitter at @citybeatkelly.