QUACKENBUSH REFUND ADS SPARK QUESTIONSPosted On: Dec. 14, 1997 12:00 AM CST
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Cries of "Show me the money" are dogging Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush after a series of television advertisements in which he states billions of dollars in insurance refunds are available for consumers.
According to one Quackenbush advertisement, the money purportedly is available from insurers' liquidated assets, automobile insurance rebates, restitution awards, class-action lawsuits and settlements with insurers.
However, the ads are puzzling California insurance industry executives who are unaware of the availability of the money. The local media is criticizing Mr. Quackenbush, alleging he is using a $1 million consumer outreach campaign merely to posture for re-election.
In the 30-second television commercials, the commissioner says the money is available because his department has cracked down on insurers that have ripped off consumers.
But last week the Los Angeles Times reported that, according to the commissioner, much of the billions he refers to is actually $1.8 billion in 86 separate accounts that state liquidators are administering. Time periods for making claims in 84 of those 86 accounts have run out, according to the Times. The paper also reported that much of the auto insurance rebates from Proposition 103 have already been paid out or are tied up in litigation.
The Insurance Department did not return calls from Business Insurance seeking to verify this report. However, the department issued a press release reiterating the claims made in Mr. Quackenbush's television spots. The press release also stated that "the facts are: there is $1.3 billion total amount in auto insurance rebates, there is a total of $1.8 billion due to conservation of bankrupt insurance companies and finally, millions of dollars have been recovered for consumers due to the aggressive action of the Department of Insurance in both restitution awards and class-action settlements." The statement did not address the Times' reporting.
The Times then followed its story with an editorial saying the Quackenbush advertisements were only boosting his political aspirations and not helping consumers. The Times isn't alone in wondering where the money is.
At least one member company of the Sacramento-based Assn. of California Insurance Cos. has received numerous telephone calls wondering what money is available, said Barry Carmody, ACIC president. But as of last Wednesday, he hadn't received a list of available money from Mr. Quackenbush.
Furthermore, the state comptroller puts out a detailed listing of money and accounts available for items such as consumer refunds. But Mr. Carmody said nothing has shown up there, either.
"One of our companies has received a number of calls, and I don't know what to tell them, because (the Insurance Department) doesn't have a list or any kind of inventory of what it is they are talking about," Mr. Carmody said. "I frankly am at a loss for words and don't have a list."
Meanwhile, insurance and political observers in Sacramento say they assume Mr. Quackenbush will be running for re-election next November, and with a primary election scheduled in June, it is not unusual for an elected official to posture early in the game.
Marin County Supervisor Harold C. Brown, a 52-year-old Democrat, former insurance agent and a cousin of former Gov. Jerry Brown has announced his intention to seek the commissioner's office.
Consumer advocate and Proposition 103 author Harvey Rosenfield, 45, has also said he is considering running for Mr. Quackenbush's office.
"The question is, 'Do I want to trade my position as an advocate on many different issues or be an advocate for consumers in government,' " Mr. Rosenfield told Business Insurance.