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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (BestWire) – Concerned about a potential conflict of interest, a California consumer group is monitoring insurers’ campaign contributions to candidates for insurance commissioner.

The Foundation for Taxpayers & Consumer Rights has created the “Quack-O-Meter”–a nod to former Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush, who resigned on the eve of a legislative investigation into his office—to track insurance industry contributions to the candidates running for office of the state’s top insurance regulator.

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,” Doug Heller, a consumer advocate with the foundation, said. “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 Assemblyman Tom Calderon, a Democrat, 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 both Democrats, have accepted contributions from insurers.

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. “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 has said he doesn’t intend to run in the election.

Low was appointed to fill the post after Quackenbush resigned.

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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