Op-Ed: Watchdog Group Fighting For Consumers

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Two decades ago, when my now 21-year-old son had a terrifying medical mishap that has left him blind and disabled for life, I sought out a consumer group that was advocating for patients. And since discovering Consumer Watchdog, over the last 20 years, we have exposed medical negligence, fought for better patient safety laws, won landmark protections for patients against their health insurers and been a countervailing power to the medical insurance establishment. I also joined Consumer Watchdog’s board of directors.

So I was surprised to read a July 28 U-T San Diego op-ed attacking our nonprofit group by a former Schwarzenegger communications deputy, Republican consultant Jeffrey Barker, within days of a remarkably similar op-ed attack on us in Sacramento’s Capitol Weekly by Democratic consultant Steven Maviglio.

Why the well-orchestrated attacks on Consumer Watchdog now?

Could it be because there’s no force the insurance industry fears more?

Barker falsely stated that our sister organization Consumer Watchdog Campaign didn’t collect enough signatures to qualify a ballot measure to require health insurance companies to justify and get permission from the insurance commissioner before raising rates and that we must start again. The initiative failed to qualify through the random sample signature check for the 2012 ballot but after a full count by election officials the Secretary of State’s Office this week certified the initiative for the 2014 general election.

We are also fighting Prop. 33, an effort to deregulate auto insurance.

Barker falsely claims that Consumer Watchdog does little more than publish blogs. In fact, our consumer group is the insurance industry’s chief watchdog. Since 2003, we have stopped $2.3 billion in unreasonable proposed rate hikes by property casualty insurance companies in California. We fight across America on consumer issues (check us out at www.consumerwatchdog.org).

Are the insurance companies supporting the attacks on Consumer Watchdog? The consultants attacking us don’t say, but they do grossly misrepresent Consumer Watchdog’s transparency and record.

Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit, discloses all donors and income to the IRS and the attorney general of California.

Consumer Watchdog Campaign publicly discloses campaign contributions for ballot measure and political activity on the secretary of state’s website.

Barker falsely charges that Consumer Watchdog Campaign concealed the identity of donors to the health insurance ballot initiative. In fact, campaign contributions are clearly disclosed on state finance reports as “non-donor” funds, which indicates this was money that Consumer Watchdog earned, rather than raised from others. The funds were principally obtained from successful litigation against telecommunications, insurance and high-tech companies that we beat in court. Our legal cases and their public interest outcomes are a matter of public record.

Ironically, the money the political consultants accuse Consumer Watchdog of hiding may have come from the very corporations that we believe are funding Maviglio and Barker. But of course we won’t know. Unlike nonprofits and political committees, they are accountable to no one and have to disclose nothing.

Olsen, a resident of Chula Vista, is a board member of Consumer Watchdog.

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