Insurance Commissioner Race Draws Diverse Supporters
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California Workers Comp Advisor
Feb 27, 2002

by Staff Writers

Insurance Commissioner Race Draws Diverse Supporters

Tom Umberg may have Erin Brockovich on his side, but Tom Calderon has Pacific Gas & Electric Co. on his. Although both Democrats, the two insurance commissioner candidates are forging vastly different political alliances.

Brockovich was a novice legal clerk who exposed Pacific Gas & Electric Company's contamination of groundwater in and around Hinkley, Calif. during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. She became a nationally recognized consumer activist after Universal Studios showcased her effort in a 2000 movie starring Julia Roberts. Brockovich, now working for a major Los Angeles law firm, has endorsed Umberg for the March 5 primary, saying he was the real "pro-consumer Democrat" in the race.

A few days after Brockovich made her endorsement, PG&E donated $10,000 to the Calderon campaign, even though the utility is under bankruptcy protection while it tries to pay off debt to generators whose electricity prices soared during California's energy crisis. The company's Chapter 11 status does not prevent it from making routine business expenses, and that apparently includes campaign contributions.

Calderon already is distrusted by consumer activists because he's the only Democrat in the commissioner race who is accepting donations from the insurance industry.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights drew parallels to the scandal that led to the ouster of Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush, who had received $3 million in insurance industry donations to his campaigns. The consumer group posted on its website a "Quack-o-meter" that showed a portion of Quackenbush's face over Calderon's name. The faces of Calderon's Democratic opponents, Umberg and former Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, were left blank on the foundation's Quack-o-Meter and both candidates have criticized Calderon for aspiring to be the state's next Quackenbush.

Ironically, however, Garamendi found that he had also been tainted by insurance company money. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Garamendi earlier this month returned $20,000 that he had inadvertently accepted from insurers during two previous campaigns.

That embarrassing disclosure was offset by some good news for the Garamendi campaign. Cindy Ossias, the Department of Insurance lawyer who unleashed the Quackenbush scandal, endorsed her former boss, John Garamendi. She compared Calderon to Quackenbush because of the $1 million-plus in insurance money his campaign received.

In another campaign development, Republican insurance commissioner candidate Wes Bannister snared an endorsement from the American Agents Alliance, based in South Pasadena. The AAA said in a press release that Bannister would fight to keep insurance premiums affordable and protect consumer rights.

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