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So many campaign dollars, so little to show for them

November 3, 2010 |  6:07 pm

George Joseph Much has been written about how many millions of dollars Meg Whitman blew on her campaign for governor. But what about all the money George Joseph spent in vain?

Joseph is the founder of Mercury General, the insurance company that spent $16 million trying to sell Proposition 17 to California voters in June. The proposition, which would have allowed insurers to lure their rivals' customers with discounts that new drivers and the uninsured couldn't obtain, was defeated, but Joseph wasn't deterred. He poured $775,000 of his own money  into the California Chamber of Commerce's JobsPAC during the fall campaign, helping to fund the political action committee's independent effort to elect Republican Mike Villines of Clovis as insurance commissioner.

Unfortunately for Joseph, Democrat Dave Jones of Sacramento won that race handily. It's understandable why the Mercury founder wouldn't care for Jones -- the former state Assemblyman opposed Proposition 17, and he's pushed to give the state more regulatory power over insurers. Villines probably would have taken a less adversarial approach to the industry than Jones.

But Jones and his allies made much of the insurance industry's behind-the-scenes support for JobsPAC's efforts to elect Villines, hoping to turn it into an albatross. Chances are that it wasn't a decisive factor -- most of the other GOP candidates for statewide office lost by margins similar to Villines'. Still, the suggestion that the industry was trying to pick him to be its regulator couldn't have helped.

State campaign finance records show that Joseph and Mercury also contributed $5,000 each  to the campaign against Proposition 25 and for Proposition 26. The (significantly smaller) investment paid off when voters approved the latter, which requires a two-thirds vote to approve new state or local regulatory fees. But voters liked Proposition 25, too; it enables the Legislature to pass a budget by a simple majority vote.

-- Jon Healey

Photo: George Joseph, photographed at his office in 2006. Credit: Wally Skalij, Los Angeles Times


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