Another $195K from Billionaire Chairman in Effort to Raise Rates on California Drivers
By Carmen Balber
George Joseph, Mercury insurance company's billionaire chairman who is backing Proposition 33, gave $195,000 to a nonprofit group recently as part of the campaign's effort to hide from voters that the initiative was written and funded by the insurance industry. Proposition 33 will allow insurance companies to charge good drivers more just because they had a break in their insurance coverage, even if they did not have a car and were not driving.
The $195,000 contribution to a campaign committee controlled by the Greenlining Institute followed another $25,000 contribution to the group this year. According to the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Greenlining's General Counsel has taken a leave of absence from the organization to work on the campaign.
Joseph has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy a veneer of respectability for Prop 33's deceptive attempt to charge good drivers more for their auto insurance. But voters are smart enough to see past this paid endorsement to the real question: When was the last time an insurance industry billionaire spent $8.4 million to save drivers money?
Notably, Greenlining opposed a nearly identical ballot measure proposed by Mercury insurance company in 2010, Prop 17. At that time, Greenlining said that Prop 17 would "benefit individual private companies at the expense of most Californians, and pose a particular risk to low-income communities."
If it were to pass, Prop 33 would overturn a 24-year-old law banning discriminatory practices by auto insurance companies that were brought to light in a 1987 California civil rights case, King v. Meese. Proposition 103, passed by the voters in 1988, banned auto insurers from charging more, or refusing to sell insurance, to people who were not previously insured. Prop 33 would legalize those old deceptive tricks that made auto insurance inaccessible or unaffordable to low-income families and communities of color for decades.
Ninety-nine percent of the money to support Proposition 33, including the $195,000 contribution to Greenlining, has come from Mercury insurance chairman George Joseph. Joseph and his company have waged a decades-long war in the legislature and the courts against the consumer and civil rights protections enacted by voters in Proposition 103.
Prop 33 would allow insurance companies to charge higher premiums for Californians who stopped driving for legitimate reasons, including: graduating students entering the workforce; people who dropped their coverage while recuperating from a serious illness or injury that kept them off the road; Californians who previously used mass-transit; and the long-term unemployed. Despite the effort to whitewash its true purpose, Proposition 33 is just another deceptive ballot measure that would raise car insurance rates on good drivers.
Carmen Balber is the Washington, D.C. Director of Consumer Watchdog, a nationally recognized consumer group that has been fighting corrupt corporations and crooked politicians since 1985.