Reporting from Sacramento — For the second time in a month, a California Chamber of Commerce political action committee funded in part by major insurance companies is bankrolling TV ads to help Republican Mike Villines in his race against Democrat Dave Jones for state insurance commissioner.
In campaign finance disclosure documents, the deep-pocketed chamber reported that it was spending $280,234 to fund "media production" for television advertisements that oppose Jones.
The same report showed that the chamber's political action committee, called JobsPAC, received six contributions from insurance company interests totaling $387,000. The two largest were $225,000 from George Joseph, chairman of Mercury General Corp., and $90,000 from Progressive Corp.
Both Jones and Villines have pledged that they wouldn't take any campaign contributions from insurance companies because that could present a conflict of interest should either become the insurance industry's chief regulator.
Under California election law, insurance companies and anyone else legally can contribute to so-called independent expenditures favoring or opposing a candidate. The only restriction is that they not be coordinated with the favored candidate's campaign.
Jones, however, accuses insurers of "laundering money through the California Chamber of Commerce to avoid disclosing they are behind the ads that the Chamber of Commerce is running for my opponent."
He predicted that the chamber's TV campaign would spend as much as $5 million to try to defeat him.
Villines stressed that he had no knowledge or control over what the chamber might do on his behalf. "I've worked very hard to keep a very bright line with raising money and making sure it's not from the insurance industry," he said.
The chamber said its JobsPAC had a long history of supporting "Democrat and Republican candidates who have demonstrated commitment to a pro-jobs agenda."
Mercury's Joseph declined to say whether he or his company was backing an independent-expenditure campaign in the insurance commissioner's race.
"As long as independent-expenditure campaigns are legal," Joseph said, "everyone has a right to express themselves."