Fight Over Prop. 33 Ads Following Attack In Libya

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Opponents of the November ballot measure Proposition 33 demanded Thursday that the campaign backing the insurance initiative pull its radio ads focusing on the military, calling them “deceptive and disrespectful.”

Prop. 33 would enable insurance companies to offer discounts to drivers who have maintained consistent coverage and to charge higher rates for those who haven’t. Under Proposition 103, which voters approved in 1988, insurers cannot factor in a motorist’s past coverage when setting rates.

The latest insurance measure includes an exemption that allows drivers to qualify for the continuous coverage discount if they drop their insurance because of active military service. The Yes campaign’s radio ad says the measure “protects our veterans and military families and allows them to keep their discount on car insurance, saving them money.”

But following the attack in Libya that killed four American officials, including East Bay native J. Christopher Stevens, Consumer Watchdog, which is leading the fight against Prop. 33, said the ads must be suspended.

In a letter to George Joseph, the chairman of insurer Mercury General Corp. and the source of virtually all of the Yes campaign’s funding, Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court wrote:

“You began your disingenuous ‘Heroes’ radio advertising campaign for Proposition 33, the California ballot measure for which you have given 99% of the funding, the day after September 11th with the hope of fanning patriotic sentiments for your insurance company’s cause. You could not have known that those cynical advertisements -– which misrepresent your measure’s impact on our nation’s military, their families and foreign service officers –- would air when American military and foreign service members are under grave threat worldwide.

“Nonetheless, you now have an obligation not to betray the seriousness of the current circumstances our heroes face abroad with radio advertisements that lie about what Prop. 33 does in their name.”

In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Court highlighted how foreign service officers serving abroad could face higher insurance rates when they returned to California if Prop. 33 passes, because the measure does not exempt inactive members of the military. Referring to diplomats abroad as heroes, Court said “it’s really wrong to say you’re supporting heroes when in fact you’re penalizing them.”

When asked, Consumer Watchdog denied it was trying to take political advantage of the tragedy in Libya.

Michael Mattoch, a supporter of Prop. 33 and a regional executive at the United Services Automobile Association, which insures members of the military, said: “The advertisement is true. Prop. 33 creates a safe harbor for military personnel.” He said the complaints from Consumer Watchdog had “taken hyperbole to a new high.”

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