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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS : INSURANCE COMMISSIONER : Industry Donors Give Quackenbush Big Funding Edge on Torres : Insurers and agents have given at least $1.9 million to the GOP candidate, according to his opponent. Many of the donors are seeking rate increases that will be decided by the winner.

November 05, 1994|KENNETH REICH and JERRY GILLAM | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A surge of new contributions in the final burst of campaigning, mostly from the insurance industry, is giving the Republican candidate for insurance commissioner, Charles W. Quackenbush, an ever greater funding advantage over his Democratic opponent, Art Torres.

During October, Assemblyman Quackenbush pulled in more than 2 1/2 times the money given to state Sen. Torres, according to reports filed with the secretary of state's office.

Of Quackenbush's $1.12 million total for that month, campaign reports show that 80% came from the insurance industry, which the GOP candidate says he would regulate less stringently than either Torres or the present commissioner, Democrat John Garamendi.

Torres received less than 10% of his contributions from the insurance industry in the October reporting period--and the gap widened in recent days as late contributions were reported to the secretary of state.

In the first three days of November, Quackenbush raised $105,110, while Torres got only $4,500, according to reports available Friday, four days before Election Day.

At least $70,000 of the most recent Quackenbush money came from insurers or their agents, and it may have been more. Two contributors, who gave a total of $7,000, could not be located or identified by profession.

Meanwhile, none of Torres' new $4,500 came from the industry.

Although not all contributions are fully identified in either candidate's reports, a Quackenbush spokeswoman said she would accept as "fairly accurate" a Torres campaign estimate that Quackenbush received $882,410 in insurance industry money of his total of $1,120,026 in the October report.

Altogether during his campaign, Quackenbush's contributions from the insurance industry have totaled at least $1.9 million, about 68% of the $2.8 million he has raised so far, according to Torres' tracking of his rival's funding.

By contrast, only $42,500 of $436,697 that the Torres campaign raised since Oct. 1 came from industry interests, according to estimates tallied by Quackenbush, and most of that money came from insurance defense law firms, not the companies, agents and brokers that gave to Quackenbush.

The Quackenbush campaign estimates put Torres' contributions from interests affiliated in some way with the industry at about $250,000 of a campaign total of $1,747,624, or about 15%. But the Torres campaign disputes claims that much of that actually came from the industry.

At a Los Angeles news conference Thursday at which he announced his support for Torres, national consumer advocate Ralph Nader contended that the comparative contributions show that Quackenbush would be beholden to the industry if he were elected.

In a play on Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Nader quipped that Quackenbush as commissioner would be "of Safeco, by Allstate and for Cygna."

Torres was also formally endorsed by Harvey Rosenfield, the fiery insurance reform leader who was the author of Proposition 103 in 1988.

Quackenbush's announced policy is to accept money from companies, agents, brokers and other industry elements. Torres says he will not take money from those sources, but will take funds from attorneys who work for insurers and other industry elements not regulated by the state Department of Insurance.

Torres says he has returned several thousand dollars when he realized that the donors were companies, agents or brokers.

A further analysis of Quackenbush contributors indicated that $75,106 of the Republican's money has come from State Farm or its agents, $46,218 from Farmers or its agents, and $70,180 from Allstate Co. or its agents. Another $100,000 came from the smaller Zenith Insurance Co. The industry's leading lobby in Sacramento, the Assn. of California Insurance Companies, gave $300,000.

Many of the givers have filed for rate increases that will be decided by the next commissioner.

Another analysis of Quackenbush contributors, by Rosenfield, contended that industry gifts to the Republican totaled $1.1 million in October and $2.1 million altogether this year. But the Quackenbush campaign said these figures represent some double counting involving two campaign funds and were a little too high.

Many Torres contributions, by contrast, came from medical practitioners and lawyers who play a role in the politics of insurance in the state but are not directly regulated by the commissioner.

Both candidates were asked this week to assess what the figures mean to the electorate.

Torres said, "The voters are going to get higher (insurance premium) rates with Quackenbush, pure and simple . . . It's clear (my opponent) is being manipulated by an industry which he wants to regulate."

Quackenbush said that regardless of his contributions he intends to be an independent commissioner.

Earlier, he said the industry is giving so heavily to his campaign because "people contribute to people based on their philosophical orientation." He said that does not mean that insurance rates would rise more under him than under Torres.

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