Opponents accuse Proposition 33 backers of breaking campaign law

by Steven Harmon , San Jose Mercury News

Opponents of an auto insurance industry-backed ballot measure are accusing the pro-Proposition 33 campaign of breaking the law by grabbing online domains that appeal to voters opposed to the measure and redirecting them to the Yes campaign’s website.

The Automobile Insurance Discount Act seeks to allow drivers to change insurers and continue loyalty discounts — but also would level surcharges for many drivers whose insurance has lapsed. Backed solely by Mercury Insurance owner George Joseph, it is similar to Proposition 17 of 2010, which voters turned down.

Anticipating an opposition campaign from Consumer Watchdog, the Yes campaign bought Web domains that the No campaign would likely have chosen: StopProp33.org (and .com) and VoteNoProp33.org (and .com). Viewers who click on to those websites are redirected to the Yes campaign’s website.

Consumer Watchdog sent a letter to the Yes campaign Monday, saying it has until Tuesday at 5 p.m. to relinquish the online domains. If they don’t they will file suit. California’s Political Cyberfraud Abatement law prohibits "cybersquatting" on ballot measure-related domain names.

"They want to literally own the debate," said Doug Heller, a spokesman for the No side. "Fortunately, we have election law on our side, which says the public has to hear both

Terry McHale, a spokesman for the insurance-backed ballot measure said, "We will release them to someone. I just got the letter and we’ll look at it. My guess is we will be agreeable."

Opponents say Proposition 33 would repeal an auto insurance consumer protection law that prevents insurers from surcharging good drivers who did not have insurance at some point in the past.

Proponents say this year’s ballot measure is different from 2010: It allows an 18-month grace period for the unemployed before those with lapsed coverage could be hit with a surcharge and would forbid surcharges for members of the military on active duty.

Until the Yes campaign releases the domains, the No side is using https://stopthesurcharge.consumerwatchdogcampaign.org/ as its home page.