Taking the occasion to announce that she will accept no contributions from insurance industry sources, state Insurance Commissioner Roxani Gillespie held her first Los Angeles fund-raiser Wednesday in her budding campaign for the job when it becomes an elective position next year.
Gillespie said she had decided on the stricture against insurer contributions in order to avoid any possible appearance of conflict of interest as she rules on insurance rates and takes other steps to implement Proposition 103 in the 17 months between now and the election.
At least one of the 23 people attending the fund-raising luncheon hosted by Greek-American civic leader Peter Caloyeras at Angie's restaurant in West Los Angeles was an insurance broker who appeared to be surprised at Gillespie's refusal of his money.
The broker, James Econn of Los Angeles, nonetheless rose to his feet and paid tribute to Gillespie as "a highly respected lady, the finest insurance commissioner California has ever had" and said, "I strongly support her."
As the decision against taking insurer money was announced, someone in the audience yelled, "Let their wives write the checks." But Gillespie said that even if they do, her husband, Chris, who is her campaign treasurer, will not accept them.
The commissioner said she had held prior fund-raisers in Northern California but did not state how much has been raised.
Caloyeras paid for the lunch and suggested that the friends and associates he had invited, including lawyers, investors and businessmen, should write checks to Gillespie afterward. Accordingly, it will not be known for some days how much was raised from the event.
Gillespie, as a Republican and a former insurance company executive, might normally be able to expect substantial insurer support, while such prospective Democratic opponents as Assemblyman Tom Hayden of Santa Monica, state Board of Equalization member Conway Collis or television commentator Bill Press might expect support from the insurers' rival, the California Trial Lawyers Assn. and its members.
Accepting money from insurers would open Gillespie to charges of being co-opted by those she regulates. To sidestep any such accusations, Gillespie, who was born in Greece and came to this country at age 22, is hoping to raise much of the money needs from members of California's Greek-American community, just as Gov. George Deukmejian, who is of Armenian descent, raised many contributions in the Armenian community.
In her speech and later during a question period, Gillespie made these points:
- Insurers will initiate "an enormous amount of litigation" as Proposition 103 is implemented, and the prospect for lower auto insurance rates between now and the election is highly iffy.
- Even so, Proposition 103 has value in that it has given California a regulatory system that will allow close tracking of how the insurance business operates in the state and the pinpointing of areas for claims cost reductions that will lead to premium reductions.
- Presentations made by insurers at hearings she held last week on Proposition 103 were disappointing. Gillespie said she had hoped that the insurers would come in with their own ideas for implementing the initiative but said that companies chose instead to simply defend the status quo. The result is that "now it's the government that is going to design a new Coca-Cola (a new insurance system for California)."
- Japanese investors have been very interested in moving into California insurance, but they were "taken aback at the passage of Proposition 103 and have since simply been watching with great care to see what happens."