Santa Monica, CA – Mercury Insurance Chairman George Joseph and his campaign for Prop 33 have illegally taken ownership of the domain names StopProp33.org (and .com) and VoteNoProp33.org (and .com) and are redirecting the domains to a website in support of the auto insurance surcharge initiative, which received the Proposition 33 number last week. California's Political Cyberfraud Abatement law prohibits this type of cybersquatting on ballot measure-related domain names.
Prop 33 is Mercury Insurance Chairman George Joseph's second attempt to pass a ballot measure to repeal an auto insurance consumer protection law that prevents insurers from surcharging good drivers who did not have insurance at some point in the past, even if they were not driving. In 2010, Mercury sponsored the unsuccessful Proposition 17, which Consumer Watchdog Campaign fought using the website StopProp17.org. Mercury spent $16 million trying to pass Prop 17, and George Joseph has already spent over $8 million on Proposition 33.
In a letter sent to George Joseph (click here to download letter) and the campaign's lead consultant Aaron Read, Consumer Watchdog Campaign wrote:
"You correctly guessed that we intend to use StopProp33.org as a website to combat this year's subterfuge. But by purchasing the name in an attempt to prevent us from exercising our right to political speech, you have broken the law."
The California Political Cyberfraud Abatement law prohibits, among other things:
* Intentionally diverting or redirecting access to a political Web site to another person's Web site by the use of a similar domain name, meta-tags, or other electronic measures. [Elections Code §18320 (c)(1)(A)]
* Intentionally preventing the use of a domain name for a political Web site by registering and holding the domain name or by reselling it to another with the intent of preventing its use, or both. [Elections Code §18320 (c)(1)(D)]
Consumer Watchdog Campaign, which is part of a coalition of consumer groups opposing Prop 33, demanded that the campaign for Prop 33 immediately stop pointing the illegally held domains toward the Prop 33 support site and to transfer ownership of the domains to the actual campaign fighting to Stop Prop 33. The Cyberfraud law empowers citizens to go to court to gain access to the domain names.
Consumer Watchdog Campaign's letter concluded:
"Please have the campaign's online assets manager, or someone able to arrange the transfer of control over these domains, contact me by Tuesday, July 17, 2012 before 5pm. If you do not, we will avail ourselves of our rights under the California Political Cyberfraud Abatement Act to ensure transfer of the domains."
Prop 33 allows 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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