THE BLOG

Soldiers Getting Scrooged for the Holidays

This was not on any soldier's wish list.

Just in time for Christmas, Mercury Insurance executives are submitting signatures for a deceptive ballot initiative that would raise insurance premiums for soldiers and all other California drivers. The measure would allow Mercury and every other insurer to penalize those who want car insurance but have had a lapse in coverage anytime in the past five years. The penalty, which would amount to hundreds of dollars, would be imposed whether or not the person was driving when they didn't have insurance.

George Joseph, the chairman of Mercury, one of Forbes "World's Billionaires" and the owner of a fabulous LA mansion, seen here at StoptheSurcharge.org, has been the driving force behind the initiative, intended to appear on the June 2010 ballot. It is funded entirely by Mr. Joseph's company, to the tune of $4.5 million thus far.

Mr. Joseph clearly is relishing his part as Mr. Scrooge this holiday season.

Iraq War veteran and VoteVets.org Chairman Jon Soltz had this to say when he heard about the initiative:

"Penalizing troops with higher rates while in service to their country is beyond the pale.
I don't understand why an insurance company should be allowed to charge service
members higher auto insurance premiums just because they may have decided that they
didn't need a car while living on base."

In other words, stateside soldiers coming back home are getting screwed, royally.

When millions of Californians simply cannot afford the rate increase when they try to renew their auto insurance, the number of uninsured motorists on California roads will go up and everyone's premiums will increase as a result. Everyone loses out - except of course Mercury executives.

Mercury has even set up a front group, Californians for Fair Auto Insurance Rates or CAL-FAIR, in an effort to ensure that the news media have no access to Mercury's top execs. We all know that industry front groups are set up to hide the sponsors of consumer-unfriendly initiatives and their agenda - otherwise, they would not need the cover.

Mercury execs are also afraid of being asked about their company's long history of lying to voters, regulators and the courts. In fact, The CA Department of Insurance described Mercury earlier this year as an abusive anti-consumer company, in an official filing made in a Department action against the company. The Department wrote:

Mercury's lengthy history of serious misconduct, and its attitude - contempt towards
and/or abuse of its customers, the Commissioner, its competition, and the Superior are
all relevant to determining the penalty needed to best ensure the protection
of the public from future violations and wrongdoing... Among Department [of Insurance]
staff, consumer attorneys, and consumer victims of its bad faith, Mercury has a deserved
reputation for abusing its customers and intentionally violating the law with arrogance
indifference.

As Soltz summed it up:

"There's something wrong with an initiative on the ballot that says that it's ok to surcharge
our troops, and I hope Californians feel the same way."

As our stateside soldiers celebrate this holiday season, George Joseph is plotting new ways to ruin next year's Christmas. Nice way to wish our service members a happy, healthy and costly New Year.

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The Campaign for Consumer Rights, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, is working with consumer groups, seniors, unions and soldiers to oppose Mercury's deceptive initiative. Campaign for Consumer Rights is the campaign affiliate of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Consumer Watchdog.