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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (BestWire) – California Assemblyman Tom Calderon, who has been the only candidate to accept campaign contributions from insurers in his bid for California insurance commissioner, said the donations don’t affect his judgment.

“My record will reflect that I’ve had the ability to say no to the industry,” Calderon said. “You have to have a working relationship with the industry, but when the industry and consumers’ interests are in conflict, the commissioner always has to come down on the side of the consumer.”

Calderon was responding to the Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights’ “Quack-O-Meter,” which is being used to track insurance industry contributions to the candidates running for commissioner. The meter is named after former Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush, who resigned from his post before the state Legislature could hold hearings into his alleged wrongdoing.

Only candidates who have received more than a total of $250,000 in contributions will be tracked, the foundation said. “The more insurance company money received by a candidate, the more he will look like disgraced former Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush,” said Doug Heller, a consumer advocate with the foundation. “We want an independent commissioner, and taking contributions from insurers is not a step in that direction.”

Among the three candidates who have raised more than $250,000 so far, only Calderon, a Democrat from Montebello, has accepted insurance industry money, the foundation said. He’s raised $799,324 from the insurance industry, about 50% of his total fund raising of $1.6 million.

In his first campaign for commissioner, Quackenbush raised $2.5 million from insurers.

Former Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi has raised $1.1 million, and Former Assemblyman Tom Umberg has raised $1.8 million, but neither Garamendi nor Umberg, also Democrats, have accepted contributions from insurers.

Calderon said if it is wrong to take political money from insurers, it should also be wrong to take political money from trial attorneys, which no one is tracking. However, the political reality is candidates for a statewide office need to raise money to run a successful campaign. “I don’t have a rich relative…I’ve had to raise money the way the governor raises money. The problem with running for office in general is you have to go out there and raise money,” Calderon said. However, donations from the industry won’t taint his decisions, the assemblyman said.

Calderon has introduced a bill that would stop insurers from using credit scoring as a rate-setting tool, something he said the industry “isn’t too happy about.”

The foundation said it’s also keeping track of which insurers are major contributors. So far, Mercury Insurance leads the pack, having donated $150,000 to date, followed by Farmers Insurance, which has donated $135,404, and 21st Century, which has donated $30,000.

“Companies like Farmers give to candidates because we are looking for a person or a candidate that is going to provide fair and balanced regulation of the industry,” said Kenneth Adams, a spokesman for Farmers. “Everybody recognizes the industry is going to be regulated; the question is will it be done fairly or for pernicious reasons.” Adams noted that the company has “a constitutional right to support candidates as long as we do it in a fair and honest manner. That’s our right as far as Americans and as an American corporation.”

Other companies that have donated to Calderon include St. Paul Cos., with $25,000, and Allstate, which gave $20,000.

Eleven candidates have been certified to run and will be on the March 5 primary ballot, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

In November, 13 candidates had filed declarations of intention to run, and a 14th was listed as a pending candidate, although no date for his declaration was included in the department’s online information.

The list of 11 certified candidates includes four Democrats — Calderon, Garamendi, Umberg and Bill Winslow, an attorney/insurance consultant (BestWire, Jan. 18, 2002).

Three Republicans who are certified to run for their party’s nomination are: Wes Bannister, an insurance agent and two-time past candidate for the post; Gary Mendoza, who was the head of the Department of Corporations under Gov. Pete Wilson; and Stefan Stitch, an insurance auditor.

In November, Robert J. Larkin, a Simi Valley political activist, and Marvin Lessmann also were listed as Republican candidates but won’t be included on the March ballot, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

Four third-party candidates have also been certified to be on the ballot: Steven A. Klein, a businessman, for the American Independent Party; David Ishmael Sheidlower, an underwriting systems director, for the Green Party; Dale F. Ogden, an insurance consultant/actuary, for the Libertarian party; and Raul Calderon Jr., health researcher and educator, for the Natural Law Party.

Mark P. Lauterman for the Reform Party was listed as the 14th potential candidate in November but won’t be included on the March ballot.

Current Insurance Commissioner Harry Low, appointed to fill the post after Quackenbush resigned, has said he doesn’t intend to run in the election.

The 2002 general election will be held Nov. 5.


FTCR note: The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights does not take any position on candidates for any elected office and does not promote or oppose the election of any candidate for California Insurance Commissioner.

Consumer Watchdog
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