SANTA MONICA, Calif., July 23 -- Consumer Watchdog issued the following news release:
The insurance industry proponents of Prop 33 have released their hold on the www.StopProp33.org domain name, which now points to Consumer Watchdog Campaign's site opposing Proposition 33.
Last Monday, the consumer group sent a letter to insurance billionaire George Joseph, the funder of Prop 33, demanding that he release the website, which his campaign had purchased last spring and pointed towards its own website in support of Prop. 33. Consumer advocates demanded that Joseph turn over the domain name under the California Political Cyberfraud Abatement Act; that 2001 law prohibits initiative partisans from tying up anticipated web domains of opponents to their ballot measure.
Consumer advocates said that George Joseph's initial effort to commandeer the websites opposed to his initiative is a sign of things to come. Having already laid out $8 million, the insurance executive will spend millions more in his attempt to trick voters into believing that he is funding Prop 33 because he wants to save people money, Consumer Watchdog said. The measure actually changes California law to allow insurance companies to add a new surcharge on millions of drivers with perfect records.
"The world where a new insurance surcharge gets advertised as a gift to consumers is the same world where its okay to have a No on 33 domain name point to a Yes on 33 website," said consumer advocate Doug Heller of Consumer Watchdog Campaign, which is part of the coalition opposing Prop 33. "What's really going on is that the insurance billionaire behind Prop 33 can't afford to have voters know the truth about his initiative."
This is not the first time George Joseph has tried to repeal California's strong consumer protection laws.
* In 2010 his company, Mercury Insurance, sponsored Proposition 17, which was nearly identical to Proposition 33. Voters rejected the measure despite Mercury's $16 million advertising blitz.
* In 2005, California courts knocked down similar Mercury-sponsored legislation, saying it was an illegal amendment to a 1988 voter initiative.
* In the late 1990's Mercury simply ignored the law and used the scheme proposed in Prop 33 to surcharge drivers by as much as 40%, but the company was forced to stop by courts and regulators.
"Prop 33 is just the latest in a string of attacks that George Joseph and Mercury Insurance have launched against consumers," said Heller. "George Joseph has been unrelenting in his effort to repeal consumer protection rules in California, and he has to learn that No means No."
Prop 33 would allow insurance companies to charge dramatically higher rates to customers with perfect driving records, just because they had not purchased auto insurance at some point during the past five years. Drivers must pay this unfair penalty even if they did not own a car or need insurance at the time.
Prop 33 would increase premiums for Californians who stopped driving for legitimate reasons, including:
* graduating students entering the workforce;
* people who dropped their coverage while recuperating from a serious illness or injury that kept them off the road;
* Californians who previously used mass-transit; and
* the long-term unemployed.
Californians who had chosen not to drive for a time and did not need insurance would be surcharged when a new job, move or some other circumstance requires them to buy insurance again. Prop 33's unfair penalty would punish drivers with premium surcharges that could reach $1,000 a year or more just because they took a hiatus from driving their automobile.
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