The latest insurance scam - Page 2

Mercury Insurance wants to buy your vote again — this time, with an unusual ally
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Who pays? Mercury Insurance wants to change the rules for pricing car insurance.

Court called it "ridiculous" to claim this corporate-sponsored measure — Joseph has personally given almost $8.3 million to the Yes on 33 campaign, the lion's share of its total funding — would drive down premiums through increased competition for customers.

"There's no dispute on that and Greenlining is using tactics that are really reprehensible, and it's a shame because they are likely to be the centerpiece of Mercury's campaign," he said. "George Joseph is trying to get cover from a group that has no business doing this."

Greenlining Executive Director Orson Aguilar acknowledged the organization was divided on this measure, and that is still open to being convinced it made the wrong call. "This was hotly debated. This was not an easy issue for us," Aguilar told us. "Frankly, if we're wrong, we're happy to be convinced."

GREENLINING'S CAMPAIGN ROLE

Yet it may be too late for that: The state voter handbook has already been printed, and the Yes on 33 campaign has been touting the group's support. "The Greenlining Institute — a consumer group founded to fight unfair business practices — supports Proposition 33 because it protects consumers and allows this discount to everyone who has followed the law," says a ballot argument that signed by Kang and CDF Firefighters President Robert T. Wolf and California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Julian Canete.

"As you know, we opposed Prop. 17 and we opposed it quite vigilantly," Kang told us. And the main reason was the organization didn't buy Mercury's spin that it would simply lower rates for those with continuous coverage. "If someone is going to get a discount, someone else is going to pay more," Kang acknowledges.

Yet he is now parroting the Yes on 33 campaign's rhetoric that the measure simply rewards drivers who "followed the law" and maintained continuous insurance coverage, saying the exemptions that Mercury wrote into the new measure actually give those groups — soldiers and the unemployed, which he notes are disproportionately poor people of color — more protections than they now enjoy.

"If you have continuous coverage for five years, you are eligible for a persistency discount," Kang said, casting the measure as simple and straightforward.

Court and his group strongly object to that simplistic approach, asking why an insurance company would sponsor a measure that lowers premiums. The reality, consumer advocates say, is that this is a duplicitous measure that relies on a flawed premise and is really about giving insurance companies a new tool to capture certain customers and bilk those who can least afford it.

"These exemptions are bullshit, and they are written to be very narrow. It's lipstick on a pig," Court said. "It exposes how it raises rates for all low-income people who don't meet these very narrow exemptions."

In fact, the official summary by the Attorney General's Office makes it clear that prop. 33 "Will allow insurance companies to increase cost of insurance to drivers who have not maintained continuous coverage."

Kang disputes that objective analysis, telling us, "The ballot title and summary is up for discussion as far as what it meant."

Kang admitted that Mercury is supporting Greenlining. "They gave us $25,000 in anticipation of the summit, and we anticipate they they'll help us out in the advocacy of this measure," Kang said. "Corporations regularly contribute to us, and it has never guaranteed our consent or dissent on anything."

He defended the approach, telling us, "Sometimes working with corporations is the only way to make monumental changes," citing their successful efforts to improve the billing practices of PG&E, which regularly makes six-figure donations to Greenlining.