SACRAMENTO, CA — The insurance industry has nearly doubled its contributions in support of the Republican candidate for state insurance commissioner in recent days, drawing criticism that insurers are trying to choose their own regulator.
The indirect spending to elect Republican Mike Villines and attack Democrat Dave Jones raises questions about a conflict of interest for Villines if he wins. The insurance commissioner's office regulates the industry in California.
A Villines spokeswoman responded Wednesday that Jones may have his own conflicting allegiances if he is elected with support from labor unions and trial attorneys.
Both men are termed-out members of the state Assembly and are refusing direct contributions from insurance companies.
Over the weekend, however, insurance companies contributed $1.4 million to the California Chamber of Commerce JobsPAC, which is running the ads. That brings the industry's total contributions to $3 million.
Contributions reported Saturday came from Allstate Insurance Co., Liberty Mutual Group Inc., The Progressive Corp., which includes Progressive Casualty Insurance Company, and Mercury Insurance Group chairman George Joseph.
"It's a blatant conflict of interest," complained Jones' campaign consultant, Parke Skelton.
Critics including California Common Cause, the Center for Governmental Studies and Consumer Watchdog have said the industry's indirect contributions are a way of influencing the commissioner race without being tied directly to either campaign.
JobsPAC reported spending $368,000 since Friday on advertising and a campaign mailer, on top of $1.1 million it earlier spent for advertising in the race.
The contributions have helped keep Villines financially competitive with Jones, who had raised about five times as much money and had about five times as much in the bank at the end of September, according to the latest campaign finance reports.
Villines' spokeswoman, Jennifer Gibbons, said the campaign has no knowledge of JobsPAC's independent spending.
"Mike is running his own television ad and doing his own mail pieces," she said. "Mike is focused on his own campaign and using the resources that he has."
She noted that much of Jones' support has come from unions and attorneys.
"A lot of those groups or individuals have interests that are directly affected by the Department of Insurance," she said.
Skelton said he knows of no unions and perhaps a handful of attorneys who have contributed to the campaign and have clients with insurance interests, but no direct connections.
Chamber spokeswoman Denise Davis said she could not comment beyond a statement she issued last week saying JobsPAC supports candidates of both parties who want to create jobs.