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Billionaire George Joseph Pushes California Ballot Prop - Again

FORBES.COM

In California, the rule of politics is sometimes “one man, one ballot proposition.”

Pretty much by himself, billionaire George Joseph is financing an initiative governing insurance rates.

As the chairman and largest stockholder of Mercury General Corporation, an insurance company that does most of its business in California, Joseph has deep pockets. Forbes estimated his net worth at $1.1 billion in September.

He contributed $8.2 million last year to get the measure on the 2012 state ballot. Although the proposition is described as being sponsored by the trade group American Agents Alliance, 99.4% of its funds came from Joseph.

And although it is called the “2012 Auto Insurance Discount Act,” critics say it would raise drivers’ costs by as much as 40 percent.

The proposition would enable insurers to set rates based on a driver’s history of insurance coverage. Under current law, drivers can’t be charged more if they previously were uninsured.

The legislation frames the issue in reverse – saying discounts will be granted to drivers with uninterrupted coverage. Exceptions are made for lapses in coverage caused by military service and job loss.

In 2010, Mercury General spent nearly $16 million on a similar proposition, which was voted down.

The battle this time around has already become brutal.

Consumer Watchdog, a California group that is one of Joseph’s most vocal opponents, has put out a video calling him an “insurance grinch.”

Another web site, called the “ConsumerWatchdogWatch.com,” is in turn attacking Consumer Watchdog, accusing it of taking money from special interests.

Today eight consumer organizations in the state issued a joint press release, praising Consumer Watchdog and accusing Joseph of being the money man behind the attack.

ConsumerWatchdogWatch.com says it is financed by Forza Communications, which is headed by Steven Maviglio, former press secretary to Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat.

Joseph is a big donor to the Republican Party, but Mercury General contributed $120,000 to Davis’s campaign committee before he was recalled in 2003.

We’re awaiting comment from Joseph.

We’re also anticipating more volleys. The proposition effort ended the year with more than $6 million in the bank.

Follow me on Twitter: @Muckety.