Mercury Insurance Chairman Dumps Another $8 Million Into Prop. 33

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SACRAMENTO — Insurance billionaire George Joseph has poured another $8 million into his self-funded campaign to pass Proposition 33, a change in California insurance law he's been trying to get for a dozen years.

Joseph's latest contribution was posted on the secretary of state's website Monday. In all, he has given 99.5% of the $16.2 million that the Yes on 33 campaign has raised for the contest on the Nov. 6 California ballot.

Joseph said he is personally bankrolling the campaign and its television advertising because he believes that passage of Proposition 33 would create a more competitive insurance market that would boost the prospects of his Mercury General Corp. The Los Angeles company is the state's fourth-largest private passenger automobile insurer.

Proposition 33 would create a new discount that already-insured drivers could receive if they switch coverage to a different insurer.

Opponents of Proposition 33, led by Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica advocacy group, say the measure would overturn an important part of an earlier ballot measure. Proposition 103, approved by voters in 1988, made insurance a highly regulated business and specifically bans the use of a driver's lack of prior insurance coverage from being a factor in setting rates.

Proposition 33 would cause premiums to rise for new drivers and for people who allowed their coverage to expire, opponents say.

Consumer Watchdog has accused Proposition 33 supporters of running a deceptive campaign, pointing to pro-33 television spots that used employees of the campaign's public relations firm to portray actual insured drivers. The consumer group has filed a complaint with the state's Fair Political Practices Commission.

"Proposition 33 will allow insurance companies to raise car insurance rates on good drivers who have a break in their coverage for almost any reason, even if they weren't driving," the No campaign said in a statement.

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