Poizner Says He’s A ‘Reformer’

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The Sacramento Bee (California)

Steve Poizner, the Republican nominee for California insurance commissioner who spent a record $6 million of his own money in a failed bid for an Assembly seat two years ago, said Wednesday he supports campaign financing reform to repair the state’s political system.

“The fact is you have to be wealthy or you have to sell yourself to special interest groups if you want to run for office,” said Poizner, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who sold his last company for $1 billion.

In a meeting with The Bee Capitol Bureau, Poizner — who with a victory Nov. 7 over Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante in the commissioner’s race could catapult into a future candidate for governor — called himself “a reformer.”

“I’ve decided to devote the next big chunk of my life to public service,” Poizner said, adding that reining in insurance costs is his immediate goal.

He denied he is running for insurance commissioner as a stepping stone for governor, but conceded: “If I like what I’m doing in public service and voters appreciate the work that I’ve done, I would consider it.”

Poizner contributed $4.2 million to an unsuccessful ballot measure that would have changed how voting lines are drawn in California. He has set no limit on how much money he is willing to spend to become insurance commissioner.

Poizner lamented the increasing amount of money it costs to run for office as keeping “a lot of great people” out of politics.

As a result, he supports “some contribution limits” and closing loopholes that allow independent committees to funnel money to candidates through political parties.

“These expenditures that occur toward the end of a campaign, where it’s hard to tell where the money is coming from — that’s wrong, too, and should be fixed,” Poizner said.

But he said he opposes public financing because of concerns it will not withstand legal challenges.

Jamie Court, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said: “It’s pretty telling when you have a newcomer to politics who has virtually unlimited resources saying that it’s very difficult to operate in this big-money climate.”

But Court expressed disappointment that Poizner does not support public financing.

“The fact is the Supreme Court has upheld the public financing system in Maine, and I don’t think there’s much question about its constitutional validity,” Court said.

Court’s organization supports Proposition 89, the public financing initiative on the Nov. 7 ballot, as does Bustamante.

Like his political role model, Theodore Roosevelt, Poizner said he is wary of big corporations becoming monopolies and limiting consumer choices — a trend he sees in the insurance industry.

As insurance commissioner, Poizner said he would look “very, very skeptically” at “the continued consolidation within certain parts of the industry.”

“I don’t want to be outright hostile to the insurance industry,” he said. “Though I’ll tell you this: If they break the rules under my watch, I’ll come down on them like a ton of bricks.”

Nicole Mahrt, a spokeswoman for the American Insurance Association, said the industry is already heavily regulated and companies abide by the rules.

“Bad apples should be punished,” she said. “Bad apples make it difficult for people who are following the rules and are jumping through the hoops to compete fairly in the marketplace.”

As a trade association, Mahrt said her organization is precluded by antitrust laws from involvement in merger issues.

“Obviously, the best thing for a competitive market is having a flexible regulatory structure so that companies can respond to a changing market.”
The Bee’s Aurelio Rojas can be reached at (916) 326-5545 or [email protected]

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