The insurance industry has given more than $1.5 million in indirect contributions to support the Republican candidate for state insurance commissioner, drawing criticism that it is trying to buy influence without being tied directly to the campaign.
Both leading candidates have said they will not accept direct contributions from the industry they would regulate.
The money is flowing instead to the California Chamber of Commerce JobsPAC, which is airing advertising for Republican Mike Villines and against Democrat Dave Jones. Both are termed-out members of the state Assembly.
“It’s a way to hide the money,” said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. “It’s the kiss of death for them (insurance commissioner candidates) to be accepting money directly from insurance companies.”
There is nothing illegal about the independent expenditure.
Stern, a former general counsel for the California Fair Political Practices Commission, said the contributions and JobsPAC’s spending are being reported on campaign records as required by law.
JobsPAC’s advertising is an independent expenditure, meaning it cannot be coordinated with Villines’ campaign.
Yet Stern and California Common Cause spokeswoman Katie Fleming said Villines could publicly call for the chamber to stop spending the money on his behalf.
“With regards to JobsPAC, we have no knowledge of their activities,” Villines’ campaign consultant, Steve Presson, said in a statement released by the campaign.
The campaign directed questions to the Chamber of Commerce, which issued a statement saying JobsPAC supports candidates of both parties who favor a pro-jobs agenda.
“We definitely think it’s troubling that insurance companies have a role in electing our insurance commissioner, and accepting it through a PAC (political action committee) doesn’t make it any better,” Fleming said. “The insurance companies wouldn’t be spending their money on this race if they didn’t think they’d be getting something in return.”
Villines’ spokeswoman Jennifer Gibbons, said Common Cause and other critics side with trial lawyers and labor unions that are backing Jones.
“We reject the one-sided attempt by Common Cause and others to influence this election,” she said in a statement.
Villines’ campaign has trailed in fundraising, making the advertising by independent groups even more important to him.
Jones’ campaign raised nearly $1.2 million since the June primary, compared with Villines’ $213,000. Jones had more than $1 million in the bank at the end of September, compared with Villines’ $213,000, according to the latest campaign finance reports.
Allstate Insurance Co. spokesman Bill Mellander said the company supports the chamber’s activities but referred calls to JobsPAC for specifics.
The 2,800-member Farmers Employee and Agents Political Action Committee contributed, not the company itself, said Farmers Insurance Co. spokesman Mark Toohey.
“It’s a true grassroots political action committee. I think the average contribution is about $16.50 a month,” said Toohey. “In our case, it’s not a corporation writing a big check.”
The Villines’ campaign said Jones also had accepted money in the past from interests that had business before him. As Assembly Health Committee chairman, Jones accepted contributions from lawyers and others connected to the insurance industry and health care interests.
Jones’ consultant, Parke Skelton, said Villines is using nearly $55,000 that was contributed by insurance companies to his Assembly campaign committee and later transferred to his insurance commissioner account.
But it is the independent expenditures that may determine the outcome of the race, Skelton said. He said Jones can’t compete with the insurance company money.
“We may spend $1.5 million on the race. JobsPAC spent that yesterday,” Skelton said.
Was this article valuable?
Here are more articles you may enjoy.