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Some unsolicited advice for Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones is smart, thoughtful and ambitious. During his time in the Legislature, he racked up an impressive record of passing legislation, leading the progressive wing of the Democratic Caucus, and building a platform to move up the political ladder. Most political observers think Jones has a bright future, perhaps as Attorney General, in Congress, or even in the Governor’s office — if the stars align the right way.

 

Which makes many wonder why Jones has attached himself to the hip of ConsumerWatchdog.org, the faux “consumer” group that does dirty work for special interests, grandstands instead of contributes to public policy, opposed President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, supported the recall of Governor Gray Davis, and has little credibility among real consumer groups, lawmakers, and the press. Read more at http://www.consumerwatchdogwatch.com/

 

Jones is none of those things. In fact, just the opposite, including a stint with Attorney General Janet Reno, who was about as media shy and policy-driven as they come. But his tight-knit association with this group may cloud his political future if ConsumerWatchdog.org’s problems continue to mount.

 

Case in point: ConsumerWatchdog’s embarrassing attempt to put a health rate regulation initiative on the ballot, as well as their antics in targeting Latino legislators that were opposed to the legislative version of the bill.

 

In the event you missed ConsumerWatchdog.org’s media stunts of late, the group went after Democratic Sen. Ed Hernandez after rate regulation stalled in the State Senate — just as they had with former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (who supported mandatory health insurance coverage like Obamacare) and State Senator Juan Vargas (on a variety of issues). The move backfired, with the bill’s backers issuing apologies to Hernandez for their efforts and a much-touted cable tv advertising campaign fizzling out, simply becoming yet another tool for ConsumerWatchdog.org to pad its pockets.

 

But sensing another opportunity to pass a law that would reap millions for the organization in fees, the group launched a campaign to put rate regulation on the ballot. After months of promising to simply use volunteers for signature gathering, Harvey Rosenfeld & Co. quickly realized that their antics would fall far short of what was necessary. They poured more than $200,000 (undisclosed donors, of course) into an attempt to salvage their work with a paid signature gathering effort, but it too came up short. But not to worry: ConsumerWatchdog.org paid itself handsomely for its own campaign in consulting fees, and milked the effort for fundraising, as always.

But the failed initiative attempt proved that ConsumerWatchdog.org is more bark than bite; their half-assed effort both in the Legislature and in electoral politics proved to many that their over-the-top attacks and misguided rhetoric has gone the way of Ralph Nader.

Sadly, Insurance Commissioner Jones attached his good name to the ConsumerWatchdog efforts. He blasted repeated emails to his political mailing list on the group’s behalf, made AB 52, the doomed rate regulation bill the centerpiece of his legislative agenda, and even appeared at the lightly-attended ConsumerWatchdog.org press conference to turn in the signatures they thought would earn the measure a place on the ballot.

 

This comes despite the fact that the Jones Insurance Department has turned over millions of dollars to ConsumerWatchdog — and ConsumerWatchdog alone — through his department’s intervenor program that has come under strong criticism from many, including State Senator Juan Vargas http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/west/2012/05/17/247939.htm (My fellow Ex-Gubernatorial Press Secretaries fraternity pal Rob Stutzman wrote about some of the Commissioner’s moves about this relationship in a blog post on Monday http://politicalchow.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/screaming-for-oversight/ ).

Now, with rumors swirling of a possible state audit of the intervenor fee program and new complaints in the works to the IRS and the Fair Political Practices Commission about their campaign activities (ConsumerWatchdog’s campaign wing has been fined in the past by the FPPC), more bad news may be coming down the pike for the group.

On top of that, providing that the President is re-elected, the Affordable Care Act will march forward in California. That potentially will continue to undermine the ConsumerWatchdog attack on health insurance rates if the measure makes it on the 2014 ballot. The California Health Exchange’s Executive Director Peter Lee pretty much told the Sacramento Press Club that in an appearance two weeks ago (though he officially demurred on taking a position on the Jones/CW initiative).

 

The bottom line here?  Dave Jones has great promise to be a leader in California politics. He’d be well advised to take the advice of George Barnard Shaw: “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.” Keeping his distance from ConsumerWatchdog.org could be the best thing that ever happened to him. And he has plenty of reasons to do so.

 


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