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ConsumerWatch: Insurers Help Fund Insurance Commissioner Candidate

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Assemblyman Mike Villines, R-Clovis. (AP)

Assemblyman Mike Villines, R-Clovis. (AP)

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) — With some big political contests here in California, the race for State Insurance Commissioner is finally getting some attention. That’s because of some big, last minute donations.

Consumer advocates are concerned where the money in the race between Democrat David Jones and Republican Mike Villines is coming from.

One commercial running for Villines said its paid for by JobsPAC, a “bipartisan coalition of California employers.” But consumer advocate Harvey Rosenfeld of the group Consumer Watchdog said the recent pro-Villines ad blitz is really being financed by the insurance industry in a roundabout way.

“I’ve seen a lot of dirty tricks over the years but this is one of the worst I’ve ever seen,” Rosenfeld said.

Rosenfeld said the insurance companies are donating to the California Chamber of Commerce, which has a political action committee called JobsPAC.

Public records show that big insurance companies have donated more than $3 million in just the past few weeks. Among those donations includes $450,000 from Allstate, $365,000 from Liberty Mutual and $1 million from Geroge Joseph, the Chairman of Mercury Insurance.

The concern is that the California Department of Insurance is the state’s consumer protection agency responsible for enforcing many of the insurance related laws of the state.

Rosenfeld said, “The Chamber of Commerce is just serving as a laundry machine for insurance company dollars going in… and it’s the insurance company determining what the Chamber of Commerce is doing with that money.”

He points out that one commercial mentions that Villines will ensure that insurance companies don’t raise rates for certain consumers. Rosenfeld added, “The irony, the hypocrisy is that you have an ad that will say Mike Villines will lower insurance rates and it’s paid for by the insurance companies.”

CBS 5 Consumerwatch spoke with candidate Mike Villines by phone and he said he has nothing to do with the Chamber of Commerce’s campaign.

“I’ve been very very clear that I have no coordination. I don’t even know what they do on that side of JobsPAC,” Villines said. “I’ve been really focused on my own campaign.. I really can’t speak to that issue at all.”

The contributions to the Chamber are legal. But consumer advocates worry about the lack of transparency because voters may not realize who’s actually paying for the ads.

The California Chamber of Commerce would only email CBS 5 ConsumerWatch a brief response to our questions. The e-mail said the group supports candidates who are committed to creating jobs.

(© CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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