The following op-ed commentary by Jamie Court was published in the San Francisco Chronicle on Wednesday, October 27, 2010:
A television advertisement praises Republican candidate for insurance commissioner Mike Villines as a man who "will stop insurance companies from canceling policies for people who get sick." There's only one catch: The ad is paid for by insurance companies, even though the televised disclosure states it is, "Paid for by Jobspac, a bipartisan coalition of California employers."
In fact, $3.8 million from insurance companies paid for the advertisement, including $150,000 from Anthem Blue Cross, the poster child for canceling sick patients when they are sickest.
Only the savvy student of the California secretary of state's website will ever know insurance companies are trying to elect the commissioner who will regulate them. The campaign contributions are hidden from public view by the largest dirty money laundry machine in American history, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is now targeting electoral races all across America with big corporate cash and similar tactics.
The insurance companies' pro-Villines effort offers the clearest view of the danger to the public posed by the chamber's deception. What's at stake if California insurance companies are allowed to handpick their candidate for insurance commissioner?
California's insurance commissioner has the right to approve or deny tens of billions of dollars in rate hikes. He is judge and jury for the industry.
Allstate has donated $1.15 million to elect Villines and defeat Democratic candidate Dave Jones. In recent years, the insurance commissioner has forced Allstate to lower auto and homeowner rates by a half-billion dollars.
Car insurance chief George Joseph, chairman of Mercury Insurance, has contributed $1 million. His company is being prosecuted by the insurance commissioner and faces a possible hearing related to a proposed insurance rate increase. After Mercury lost its campaign to enact the anti-consumer measure Proposition 17 in June, the Los Angeles Times reported that Mercury said it "might carry on the fight for regulation revisions they expect to bring more business their way."
Villines has said he had nothing to do with the insurance companies' independent effort to influence voters, nor has he spoken out against it. It's hard to imagine insurance companies betting so much on a candidate who will crack down on their rates and practices.
Dave Jones, by contrast, wrote legislation to regulate health insurance company premiums while an Assembly member, angering goliaths such as Anthem Blue Cross.
Since landmark auto insurance reform Proposition 103 was enacted in 1988, creating an elected insurance commissioner's office, drivers have saved $62 billion on their auto insurance bills, according to a 2008 report by the Consumer Federation of America. The reason is insurance company campaign cash has not had a hand in electing an insurance commissioner in a decade. The only insurance commissioner to take industry money, Chuck Quackenbush, resigned in disgrace.
Voters have a strong record of not believing insurance company advertising when they see it. The problem this time is they just may not know.
Jamie Court is the author of "The Progressive's Guide to Raising Hell" (Chelsea Green) and a director of www.StoptheInsurers.org.