An influential conservative group in Orange County has pulled its endorsement of an Assembly candidate, saying he broke a pledge to reject political donations from public employees unions.
The Lincoln Club of Orange County no longer lists Newport Beach City Councilman Keith Curry, a Republican, as its choice for the 74th District, which includes Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Irvine, Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach.
Curry is a board member of the Lincoln Club, and in March the group announced it would back him in the race. But board members revoked that support last week because of $2,000 Curry's campaign received from the Orange County Professional Firefighters Assn.
The group represents firefighters at the Orange County Fire Authority and the Laguna Beach Fire Department.
The Lincoln Club endorses only candidates who promise not to take donations from public employees unions.
A copy of a pledge on the club's website says, "The Lincoln Club of Orange County believes that the problem of public employee unions and their corrupting influence at all levels of government must be taken so seriously that the Club will not endorse a candidate who does not sign the following pledge."
In an interview Wednesday, Curry said he's been a longtime critic of the vow, arguing that it pushes supporters away.
"If we're going to build the Republican Party, we have to build by addition, not subtraction," he said.
Nevertheless, he signed the document, but Curry contends he pledged with a condition.
The councilman said he agreed to sign with the understanding that any donations he received from public unions would in turn be donated from his campaign to other Republican candidates.
"Apparently not everybody understood that I had made that agreement," he said.
Curry said he asked that the club rescind the endorsement when some board members objected.
But Lincoln Club Secretary and Board Member Mark Bucher said Curry's version of events was "simply not true."
If Curry had signed the pledge with a condition, "He wouldn't have gotten the endorsement," Bucher said.
At the May 8 vote to rescind the endorsement, the board acted without any prompting from Curry, who wasn't present, according to Bucher.
The executive director of the Lincoln Club did not respond to requests for comment, but another assembly candidate criticized Curry.
"I am shocked that Curry would be so greedy that he would break his pledge," said Huntington Beach Mayor Matthew Harper, who is also a Republican. "Having Lincoln Club backing was a huge advantage for him that is now gone.
"I am far more motivated to win now that Curry has shown he's willing to turn his back on voters who want a candidate that is independent of the political operations of public employee unions."
Curry said this is not a matter of valuing the union's contribution more than the club's endorsement.
"I'm a longtime member of the club. I love the club," he said.
Now that he's been released from the pledge, Curry plans to keep the money for his campaign.
"I don't think giving it back and letting them give it to Democrats is a good idea," he said.
Republican Emanuel Patrascu, an aide to Assemblyman Travis Allen, and Democrats Karina Onofre, a small-business owner, and Anila Ali, a teacher, are also competing in the June 3 primary to replace Assemblyman Allan Mansoor in the 74th District, which stretches from Huntington Beach to Laguna Beach and inland to encompass Irvine.
According to campaign finance records, Patrascu also received a $2,000 donation from the Orange County Professional Firefighters Assn.