• Big Wallet: Insurance industry throws $17 mil at June 8 contests Sunday, May 23, 2010

    ScreenHunter_01 Jun. 02 12.30A new report by the Campaign for Consumer Rights has found that big insurance companies and their political action committees have funneled more than $17 million into legislative race  and a key ballot initiative in a bid to “quietly influence” the outcome of next Tuesday’s election.

    On several fronts, the insurance industry’s campaign giving has been swathed in a stealthy cloak, the consumer group charged, noting that “populist-sounding” groups associated with insurers have thrown more than $600,000 against one Assembly candidate in Los Angeles’s South Bay — Betsy Butler in Assembly District 53 — and more than $1.47 million  against Mary Salas in San Diego’s Senate District 40 race and for her opponent Juan Vargas.

    But the largest expenditure by far is the nearly $15 million that California’s 3rd largest auto insurer, Mercury Insurance, has spent to pass Proposition 17, which would legalize surcharges on consumers outlawed since 1988.

    “Insurers are spending millions of dollars to influence the outcome of Tuesday’s election, but most voters don’t know insurance companies are out there propping up initiatives and attacking candidates,” said Doug Heller, executive director of Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog and the man who prepared the analysis.

    Heller contends that the insurance funded groups are campaigning under names that would not lead most voters to believe that the mailers, phone calls and TV ads are actually paid for by the insurance industry. The Mercury Insurance campaign for Prop 17, he noted, has been operating under the moniker “Californians for Fair Auto Insurance Rates.

    The insurance industry dominated Civil Justice Association of California (CJAC) has also funded three separate campaign committees.  Two medical malpractice insurance company-funded committees have also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars campaigning for and against candidates for the state legislature.

    CJAC’s political committees have spent well over $1 million in support of Vargas and against Salas in the San Diego Senate race. Among those on the CJAC board are Mercury, Allstate, AIG, Liberty Mutual, the Hartford and the Travelers insurance companies as well as the industry umbrella group, the American Insurance Assn. Other CJAC board members include Chevron and BP, the British oil giant under fire as it struggles to contain a cataclysmic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

    — Eric Bailey

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