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Why This Philanthropist Picked a Fight with Qualcomm and Helped Torpedo Nathan Fletcher

In a Q-and-A, Lincoln Club Chairman Bill Lynch reflects on the group’s all-out attacks in the mayoral race, and why he didn’t necessarily support a Filner recall.

Bill Lynch says that after the mayor’s race, he’s going back to being a philanthropist.

For now, he remains chairman of the Lincoln Club.

Scott Lewis on Politics LogoAs the U-T put it when Lynch was named to the Airport Authority more than a decade ago, Lynch’s businesses “run a gamut from commercial real estate to laundromats, cosmetology schools and dining yachts.”

But it was his literacy foundation and the Reading Recovery program that got him national attention.

Throughout 2013, Lynch proved influential. Almost every day during the primary for mayor, the Lincoln Club filled voters’ mailboxes with attacks on former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher. Lynch’s role in that strained some of his longtime friendships.

Before the race began, his opinions kept some from supporting a recall of Mayor Bob Filner, despite Lynch’s distaste for Filner.

I was happy to take the chance recently to press Lynch on a few points. Here was our lightly edited conversation.

VOSD: I wanted to ask you about your influence on the mayoral election.

Bill Lynch: Look, I had been a Nathan [Fletcher] supporter. I was really impressed with him. He was one of the few guys who returned a check.

Returned a check?

Yeah, he was going to run for Assembly and he decided instead to serve in the military. He sent back my check. I thought wow, what a guy. That’s a hell of a thing to do.

Our mantra during the primary in 2012 was “anybody but Filner.” Only reason we came out so strong behind Kevin [Faulconer] later is not so much that Nathan was a Democrat.

We saw the poll he filled out for the unions. That was what did it. That’s why we went after him.

And you had a row with Qualcomm.

I have the highest respect for Qualcomm. They sent what I would consider a nasty letter saying, “What the hell are you doing?”

That stuff in the mailer we sent had already appeared on TV and in articles. But we never sent the mailer out again. I apologized. We never mentioned Qualcomm again. We simply quoted what he had said and what had been in the media.

(Edit: The claims in the mailers, specifically about how much Fletcher made at Qualcomm and the evidence that he supposedly hadn’t worked were later refuted.)

Everything we put out had been in the media or was something he said. The other side had Kevin connected with the people who shut down the federal government – that he was connected to the Tea Party.

I don’t even know who the Tea Party is in San Diego. They didn’t even try to source it.

Let’s be clear though. There was like one hit on Faulconer and another on Alvarez and 40, 50, 60, on Fletcher. Why did you go after Fletcher and not Alvarez?

The issue, according to people smarter than me, was that it would be a more classic race if we could have people who took the positions of their party. Because when we would talk to Nathan, he would tell us that he was a centrist but he took positions that were just as he filled out on his questionnaire for the unions. They had a questionnaire with 40 questions. You could answer it 1 for if you are “with us” and 5 if you are “against us.”

He checked 32 1s and eight 5s.

That pretty much demonstrated to us all we needed to know. The issue was how to have a clear race.

But you clearly determined that Faulconer has a better chance against Alvarez, right?

That’s what I guess we will find out.

Not so sure that’s exactly what went into it. We took direction from people who thought this would be the tactic – that at least we knew what David was. And we felt that Nathan’s viewpoint had not been – we wanted him to come forward and state on the record exactly where he was coming from.

I would say that we were unsuccessful in what we hoped to do – to get him to clarify where he was coming from. He had very conservative business people who believed he agreed with their point of view. It was a matter of clarifying where everyone stood.

I was at a banquet recently and I sat next to Malin Burnham. He leaned over to me and said, “You know a story you should do? The Lincoln Club. You know what I call them? The Lynching Club. All they do is attack, like a mob. It’s character assassination.”

I’m not going to respond publicly to that sort of thing. I have responded privately. It would not be my place. I do not engage in that kind of conversation.

Malin, God bless him. He is an icon of the community and can say whatever he wants and I don’t intend to answer in kind.

Evidently he believes we made some attack on Nathan that was not justified. But my guess is that if you set up some neutral panel to analyze what we said about Nathan, I think they would agree we stayed way inside the line on anything that would be considered a real hit piece.

You implied he was a freeloader. That he didn’t work. Do you really believe that?

All I can look at is his record in the Assembly and out of his own lips when he said Kevin should take half the pay when he ran for mayor.

I don’t know that Fletcher actually said Kevin should take lower pay. That was a spokesperson in an email.

You know the game Russian roulette? I don’t want to know whether it’s a loaded chamber. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. I know he didn’t show up in the Assembly and people wrote articles about it. You had people inside Qualcomm complaining about his attendance.

You ask a question I don’t have the answer to.

You’re a CEO, I’m a CEO. Well, I don’t know if you are a CEO. You certainly ran businesses.

I’m an owner of several things.

Right. I judge my employees based on what they produce. Not whether they showed up. I don’t care if they’re in Iceland.  

Believe me, we tried to keep this on point. We used things that were in the media from legit news sources not some rag somewhere. We used main TV channels. And his record. And we quit bringing up Qualcomm even though it had come from inside Qualcomm.

The unions put that stuff out about Qualcomm after us and not a peep came from Qualcomm.

What I’m really saying here is, you have the other side can say and do anything they want. And nobody criticizes them.

Look at Malin. I guess now he’s behind Kevin, no?

Have you asked Fletcher about his endorsement of Alvarez? Have you asked anyone who supported Nathan about that endorsement? That’d be a fair question to someone who was backing Nathan.

Let’s dial back in time a bit more. When all of this stuff with [Former Mayor Bob] Filner was going down, I was told you were asked and you decided you did not support a recall. That it would distract from other priorities.

I speak for me personally. I got to tell you I think I changed my mind two or three times. The dream was to not have it tangled up in some of these other races, like the City Council. I had no idea that he could have gone down this fast.

We thought the unions would fight it like crazy. I went over to that guy [Michael] Pallamary’s house for a meeting about it. There were maybe six people there.

It’s superficial to say I was against it. I was against putting our group’s money behind it before we saw some kind of momentum.

I thought the only thing that would get him out of there was the bribery stuff, was something from law enforcement. I believed that his real problem was not the gals but the $100,000 deal or his going to Paris and the other stuff.

As far as us playing a role in the recall, we have very limited funds compared to the unions. We could deplete the amount of money we could raise for the recall and then turn around and not be able to weigh in with any kind of heft on the actual election.

So what are you going to do now?

Gotta remember I’m just a businessman, who has unfortunately X-number of entities on my tax return and wish I could keep one-third of them and that someone else had the other two thirds.

Until the middle of this last decade I was still just doing the philanthropic thing. All kinds of things having to do with reading and Reading Recovery and spent time talking to politicians trying to get something done for kids.

I ran into the fact that politics controls everything, and so I got involved.

So I’ve written a bit about a meeting at Tom Sudberry’s house in La Jolla. Where folks like you and many many others were trying to choose between three potential Republican candidates for mayor. Who were you pulling for?

There were five or six meetings. They started before Filner resigned. Originally, they were called by Carl [DeMaio] and Kevin because they thought it was important that there was only one of them in the race. The group kept getting bigger because they had very strong feelings that there should be only one candidate.

I thought we needed a group consensus but it looked to me like it should be Kevin. Carl already announced and collected for that race and there were many people who had donated already and he was leading in that race.

Kevin was the guy, I thought. Everybody said their piece and eventually all the candidates agreed.

You know, I never read anything about the unions meeting. So much intrigue and negative perception about our meetings.

I did a lot of writing about Mickey Kasparian and the unions strategizing.

Oh that’s right. I take it back. I take it back. That was good. One of the things about getting old is you get senile and you think things are true based on your impression.

I’m looking forward to getting out of this job and getting back to philanthropy. It’s tax-deductible.

Politics is not very efficient. You back a candidate and odds are 50-50 that they lose. And then, half the time they don’t talk to you when they win, so that leaves you at a one in four chance for influence. And then they don’t do what they said they’d do.

So you’re left with a one in eight chance for influence.

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