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Stop Billionaires From Buying the Vote

2:53 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

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We have just one week to beat the insurance billionaires trying to buy this election.

We plastered these posters around the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles to expose these deceptive billionaire propositions. Can you help us make sure more voters know?

Please post our new posters on Facebook today. Don’t use Facebook? Share the posters directly from our website here.

Our grassroots campaign against Prop 33 has just a few hundred thousand dollars to compete with the $16.4 million spent by insurance billionaire George Joseph, chairman of Mercury Insurance.

PhotobucketAnd last week, Charlie Munger Jr., the heir to the Berkshire Hathaway fortune including GEICO Insurance, sank another $13 million – for a total $35 million – into the campaign for Prop 32.

Prop 32 will take away workers’ voices in Sacramento but preserve the power of big corporations and wealthy individuals – like Munger and Joseph – to spend unlimited amounts in elections. Prop 33 will deregulate auto insurance and allow insurance companies to raise rates on good drivers just because they decide to stop driving for awhile.

We’ve got just 7 days left to expose these billionaires and stop them from buying the election.

Please share our posters on Facebook, or find the posters on our website and email your friends.

Your voice can beat the money spent by these insurance billionaires, but only if you help us spread the word. Tell your friends to vote No on Props 32 and 33 today!

An Open Letter to The Insurance Billionaires Behind Props 32 & 33

9:00 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

No On 32 and 33

In an open letter today, the California Nurses Association and Consumer Watchdog challenged the billionaire financiers of Propositions 32 and 33 to a public, televised debate.

Will Charles Munger Jr. and George Joseph defend the measures attacking working people that they’ve spent $39 million promoting? Or will they continue to hide in the shadows behind their PR flacks and deceptive TV advertising?

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October 24, 2012

Mr. Charles Munger Jr. and Mr. George Joseph:

Gentlemen, the California Nurses Association and Consumer Watchdog invite you, the primary financial sponsors of Propositions 32 and 33, to join us for a public debate on the merits and adverse consequences of these measures and the impact they will have on all Californians.

We call for a debate that would be hosted by a journalist of mutual agreement in a televised forum at your earliest convenience.

To date, Californians have heard a great deal about the reputed benefits of Propositions 32 and 33, but only from one-­‐sided political ads that hardly provide a fair or complete picture.

As the biggest financial contributors to these initiatives, for which you have already contributed a combined $39 million, your silence on these measures, which will have far-­‐reaching effects on all Californians, does a great disservice to the public.

If the initiatives you have so lavishly financed really will achieve the promises you claim in your advertisements, you should welcome the opportunity to stand up in public and defend them. We call on you to do so now.

As you no doubt know, our organizations sharply disagree with both the content of these initiatives, and the misleading way in which you have promoted them.

Proposition 32 is a misleading measure which claims to be legitimate campaign finance reform, but has been exposed as anything but that by virtually every newspaper in California. It would exempt corporate interests, shadowy super PACS, and the super wealthy like both of you while silencing the voices of nurses, consumer advocates, and others who would challenge your views.

Proposition 33 reverses a 24-­‐year-­‐old consumer protection that prohibits auto insurance companies from charging drivers more for car insurance just because they didn’t drive previously or otherwise had a break in coverage. Opposed by Consumers Union, Consumer Watchdog and nearly every newspaper editorial board in California, Proposition 33 allows insurance companies to penalize good drivers who did nothing wrong other than not drive and not buy insurance. Nonetheless television advertising running statewide falsely claims Proposition 33 “rewards responsible consumers.”

We know that more and more Californians are appalled at the specter of billionaires and multi-­‐millionaires corrupting our political process and would like to hear answers from those spending so much in this campaign. First and foremost, they would ask: Are the $22.9 million and $16.4 million checks you have written for Propositions 32 and 33, respectively, aimed at anything more than buying the vote for personal and political gain?

It’s time for you to step out of the shadows. The voters deserve to see and hear from the people responsible for Props 32 and 33, rather than the same old sound bites from the deceptive advertising your millions pay for.

Voters need to look you in the eye to gauge your sincerity, and judge your motives. The voters being bombarded with your advertising spin now deserve no less.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

DeAnn McEwen, RN
Co-­‐president, California Nurses Association

Jamie Court
President, Consumer Watchdog

California’s Billionaire Ballot: The Good, Bad, And Ugly

3:12 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

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Populist governor Hiram Johnson gave Californians the ballot initiative one hundred and one years ago to combat the stranglehold of wealthy scions over the statehouse. Today’s New York Times reports on how California’s ballot measures are dominated by a handful of billionaires, including some trying to buy more power for themselves and their companies. Call it The Billionaire Ballot.

In modern history there has been no slate of ballot measures with so much concentrated wealth behind it. But can we judge a ballot measure by the billionaire behind it? It depends what the billionaire wants.

Here’s a populist guide to the Good, Bad and Ugly of California’s Billionaire Ballot:

The U G L Y: Two insurance billionaires are the big funding behind Proposition 32 and 33. Both initiatives have been rejected before. The tens of millions being poured in by two insurance billionaires are pure power grabs to get more money and power for the backers of Proposition 32 and 33.

Proposition 33 is backed by Mercury Insurance Chairman George Joseph, who has spent $16 million, 99.5% of the funds behind the initiative, to charge drivers more for not having auto insurance previously, even if the reason is they didn’t drive. Billionaires buying the ballot to help their own profits doesn’t get much uglier than Prop 33.

Prop 32 features the heir to the Berkshire Hathway fortune, including GEICO and another insurance company, buying the ballot to gut the power of labor unions in the political process. This of course helps the super-rich and insurance companies have more power. GEICO heir Charlie Munger Jr. poured $22 million into Prop 32, and it isn’t to benefit The People, but His People. Hiram Johnson rating: U.G.L.Y!

The BAD: Molly Munger, the other heir to the Berkshire Hathaway fortune, the liberal one, is funding an altruistic ballot measure, Prop 38, which is backed by the PTA and funds education. The problem is it has little public support and is likely not only to fail, but could bring down Prop 30, Governor Brown’s budget mending ballot measure, which Munger briefly attacked directly. Rule for billionaires in ballot measures: start with 70% approval rating, not 40%. IF you don’t have the public with you at the beginning, you are not likely to win voters over. And if there’s a competing ballot measure, it’s likely to be a pox on everyone’s house.

The GOOD: At least two billionaires have the right idea. Environmentalist and hedgefund manager Tom Steyer is funding Prop 39, an enlightened idea to close the state’s loophole on taking out of state corporations, and generate $1 billion for the beleaguered state treasury. Steyer used his money to stop oil companies from gutting the state’s greenhouse gas emissions law last election, for which he earned my consumer group’s Phillip Burton Public Service Award.

Nicholas Berrgruen’s financing pushed Prop 31 on the ballot at the last minute. It’s a two year budget cycle initiative reform that has positives and negatives, but Berrgruen sponsored the idea because he believed it would benefit Californians, not line his own pockets. In the end, that’s all we can really ask of billionaires that want to play in ballot measure politics: 1) Do it for the state, not to benefit yourself or your class 2) Don’t screw anyone else who has a better idea and is more in sync with public opinion.

It takes big money to play in California’s ballot measure process today, so billionaires are plenty welcome. But if they are in it for themselves, they aren’t likely to fool the voters, who have a remarkable knack for rejecting any ballot initiative with a stink behind it. In the end, the initiative process is still the people’s. Voters decide, and their judgment over the billionaires is the final verdict.

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Originally Posted on The Huffington Post by Jamie Court, author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell and President of Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.