California's third largest auto insurer, Mercury Insurance, created a front group called Californians for Fair Auto Insurance Rates (Cal-FAIR), to advance a ballot initiative that, if passed, would allow insurers to slap surcharges on drivers who allow their auto insurance coverage to lapse for any reason. Cal-FAIR shares the same Sacramento address as the public relations firm Goddard Claussen, which boasts that it is "the most successful issue-advocacy firm in America." Cal-FAIR is submitting signatures this week to place Mercury's measure on the state ballot in 2010. The initiative is Mercury's attempt to make an end-run around a law Californians passed in 1988, which prohibits auto insurers from considering people's prior insurance coverage in setting rates. Mercury is Cal-FAIR's only donor, and so far has put $4.5 million into the campaign to try and pass the measure. Cal-FAIR portrays Mercury's ballot initiative as giving discounts to people who’ve had auto insurance continuously, but it doesn't let people know that the measure would also bring rate increases on anyone else who lets their insurance lapse, for example people who use public transportation for a time, military personnel who temporarily leave the state, people who let their insurance coverage lapse while recovering from an illness, and anyone else who doesn’t need insurance for a time. If you are late making auto insurance payments for any reason and get canceled -- for example due to an illness, home foreclosure or loss of a job, Mercury's ballot measure allows insurance companies to jack up rates when you resume paying. In a February, 2009 court filing, the California Insurance Department's Legal Division described Mercury as "an abusive, anti-consumer company," and said the company has "a deserved reputation for abusing its customers and intentionally violating the law with arrogance and indifference."
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