Insurance Industry Wants to Buy This Election

by By Rosemary Shahan, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, California Progress Report

Insurance companies are spending a fortune to hand pick their next regulator. The insurance industry has so far pumped $5.7 million into ads attacking the pro-consumer candidate Dave Jones, or promoting Mike Villines, the industry’s choice for Insurance Commissioner.

Thanks to the hard-fought ballot initiative Prop 103, California voters get to vote directly on who will police the behemoth insurance industry. With billions at stake, for consumers and for their bottom lines, the insurers sunk over $80 million into their campaign to stop Prop 103, but they were overwhelmed by the popular uprising. According to a Consumer Federation of America study, Prop 103 has saved California motorists $62 billion in reduced auto insurance costs alone in two decades.

Two decades later, the insurers are trying to undo one of the greatest benefits of Prop 103 — the independence of the Insurance Commissioner — and capture the agency.

If you follow the money, it’s obvious who the insurers seek to elect as California’s next Insurance Commissioner — Republican Assemblyman Mike Villines. Exploiting loopholes in campaign disclosure laws, they’re funding attack ads against the Democratic candidate, Assemblyman Dave Jones, who is well-known for being a strongly pro-consumer champion.

In fact, Jones has repeatedly earned 100% pro-consumer ratings in the Consumer Federation of California’s Legislative scorecard. Villines’ voting record is the polar opposite. For years, on high-stakes issues ranging from the price of health care to whether insurers can discriminate on the basis of where you live, the vast majority of the time, Villines has voted for insurance industry giants, and against individuals and families.

Now, at the 11th hour, the insurers are suddenly funneling millions into TV attack ads aimed at defeating Jones and electing Villines. Aware of the public’s disregard for their industry, insurers are funneling their money through big business front groups, like the so-called "Jobs PAC."  By placing their donations through big business PACs, the insurers allow Villines to posture as a supposedly "independent" candidate. This cynical sleight of hand is reason alone to give this race more careful scrutiny.

Major donors to anti-Jones and pro-Villines campaign advertisements include one million dollars from Mercury Insurance CEO George Joseph, $1.15 million from Allstate, $640,000 from Liberty Mutual Insurance, $390,000 from Progressive Insurance, $225,000 from Farmers Insurance and $150,000 from Anthem Blue Cross. The California Chamber of Commerce has added another two million, most of it from donations it collects from insurance industry interests. This video tracks the money.

If your family’s health care premiums keep skyrocketing — if you have ever been denied payment of an insurance claim — if your health insurance has been canceled due to a pre-existing condition — if you have been shortchanged by an insurer over repairs to your car — if you have insurance for your home, car, or any other property — or if you’ve been priced out of the insurance market, then you have a stake in who the next Insurance Commissioner will be.

Please be alert to who is behind those attack ads, and keep that in mind when you vote.