IRVINE — The Lincoln Club of Orange County, long a bastion of wealthy Republican donors to state and federal candidates, has targeted a handful of cities that block its ability to influence nonpartisan local elections.
The club filed a lawsuit this week against the city of Irvine, alleging that barring the club from spending money in local races is an unconstitutional restraint on free speech.
A city law prohibits any association with dues greater than $320 a year from launching campaigns to support or oppose candidates and ballot measures. The Lincoln Club assesses its 300 members annual fees, which will be $2,000 each starting in January.
Other lawsuits will be filed in coming months challenging similar laws in Huntington Beach, Anaheim and Orange, said Lincoln Club President Michael D. Capaldi, a lawyer in Newport Beach.
"The core issue here is whether a club like the Lincoln Club or any other club has the right to get its opinion heard," Capaldi said Friday. "These laws are just unconstitutional."
Irvine Mayor Christina Shea said she was unaware of the lawsuit. She said City Atty. Joel Kuperberg warned when the contribution limits were adopted in 1995 that the provision limiting independent spending could be challenged in court.
"I support limits," Shea said. "My concern has been that unions could come out and they could spend big bucks on a candidate when it should be a level playing field."