Consumer Watchdog: New Prop. 17 Ad Deceptive

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The Mercury Insurance Company’s ballot initiative, Proposition 17,
officially began its air campaign Tuesday with a statewide 30-second TV
spot, and it’s predictably raising hackles from its opponents.

The Consumer Watchdog’s Doug Heller called it another attempt at
misleading voters. This time, it has to do with an old tactic: trying to
give credibility to a cause by citing a respected organ. In this case,
it’s the official voter’s guide.

“There is only one place to get the facts about Proposition 17,” a
women’s voice intones. “The official voter’s guide.”

That’s true, in a sense, because that’s where you can read the
official title and summary, written by the attorney general, who is
considered to be a sober, independent arbiter in parsing out how ballot
measures should be presented to voters.

But, the ad isn’t referring to the title and summary, which declares,
simply, that Proposition 17:

The title: Allows auto insurance companies to base their prices
in part on a driver’s history of insurance coverage.

The summary: Permits companies to reduce or increase cost of
insurance depending on whether driver has a history of continuous
insurance coverage.

Instead, the ad lifts straight out of the argument for the measure in
the voter’s guide, written, of course, by Mercury Insurance. Here’s the

Heller of Consumer Watchdog said the ad “implies this is from an
independent, official assessment of the initiative, rather than the
garbage Mercury wrote. Not one word comes from any official or
independent analysis of Prop. 17.”

The ad, he said, is “meant to mislead voters into thinking Prop. 17
does one thing when it actually does another, which is to allow
insurance companies to increase premiums, which is how the attorney
general describes it with the actual official title and summary.”

Heller called the ad a “perfect metaphor” for the entire campaign.
“Even when claiming to be giving facts, they’re just spouting their own
poll-tested promises that voters can’t trust.”

The campaign for Proposition 17, Californians for Fair Auto Insurance
Rates (FAIR), argues that the vast majority of drivers — the 82 percent
who are insured — will be able to get a discount for having been
covered continuously even if they change insurance companies. Currently,
drivers are charged up to $250 for changing companies, even if they
have had continuous coverage.

Opponents, led by Consumer Watchdog, said the ballot measure would
allow insurance companies to levy new surcharges to those drivers who
haven’t had continuous coverage. That would lead to more people, unable
to afford the surcharges, driving uninsured, which in turn would lead to
higher premiums for everyone, Heller said.

Kathy Fairbanks, for Prop. 17, said the Yes on 17 ad “urges people to
look at the voter pamphlet, which contains our arguments, opponents’
arguments, the LAO (Legislative Analysts Office) analysis and the Title
& Summary. Aside from the opponents’ arguments, all make it clear
that drivers are not able to take their continuous coverage discount
with them and, that, if passed, Prop. 17 will allow insurers to extend
the discount to drivers no matter which company they choose.”

She continued: “I’m perplexed by opponents’ reaction to our ad. The
Yes on 17 ad highlights what’s wrong with the current law and how Prop.
17 will make drivers better off by allowing them to take their
continuous coverage discount with them if they change insurers. Our ad
is simple and straightforward to explain a simple and straightforward

On Fairbanks’ point that the ad urges people to look at the voters’
guide: it doesn’t, unless she means that by merely mentioning the
voters’ guide, the ad is urging voters to look it up. Ads are meant to
be a shortcut for voters. You don’t have to do the work. We’ll do it for
ya. Trust us. Besides, why would the ad urge people to go to the
voters’ guide if it would just expose people to the opposition’s

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
Providing an effective voice for American consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Non-partisan.

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