Corporations Are Spreading Privacy Law Disinformation

The era of more online privacy is approaching, and California is a pioneer. This is our first Truth in Privacy dispatch. Last week, a slew of entities spoke about rulemaking before the California Privacy Protection Agency, which will soon draw up the strongest online privacy laws in the country. Elemental to the new law is people’s ability to opt-out of their personal data being shared or sold by a business. A hallmark will be webpages accepting a global opt-out signal.

Your Trust

“Why do you trust Harvey?” an angry insurance company flack asked a newspaper reporter a few weeks ago. 
 
They’ve been asking that question for thirty-three years, ever since California voters defied the odds and stunned the American political establishment by passing Proposition 103. 103 rolled back auto, home and business insurance rates, required insurance companies to open their books and justify their rates, and gave consumers powerful new rights that have saved motorists an estimated $154 billion since 1989.
 

What's on your ballot? My take on the 2020 California propositions

Wondering what the story is with the dozen statewide propositions on your ballot? We've had so many requests that, while Consumer Watchdog hasn't weighed in on every measure, I'm sharing my personal recommendations below.

Prop 14 – LEANING NO
Allows the state stem cell research institute, CIRM, created 15 years ago by a prior ballot measure, to raise another $5.5 billion through bond sales to fund stem cell research.

Wildfire Recovery: Insurance Tips for California Homeowners

 

With 33 active fires and 3.6 million acres burned, including the largest in California history, tens of thousands of Californians have been displaced by the ongoing wildfires. They will need help getting back on their feet when they are finally able to return home.

On today’s Rage for Justice Report podcast, I interviewed Amy Bach, the executive director of the nonprofit United Policyholders. Her website is California’s – and perhaps the country’s – best resource for detailed how-to guides on what to do when disaster strikes.

Insurers Fail To Rip-off Homeowners

The legislative session is over. I am happy to report that the bad guys didn’t win.

Insurance companies were not able to pass legislation in Sacramento allowing them to raise rates on homeowners in fire zones in violation of strict premium regulation created by voter-approved Prop 103. Thanks to your support, the State Senate refused to pass a dangerous insurance industry-backed bill by Assembly member Tom Daly.

California State Legislators Use Coronavirus As An Excuse To Hijack Democratic Process

The following was originally published as an op-ed commentary in the SACRAMENTO BEE on August 11, 2020: https://www.sacbee.com/opinion/article244870462.html

Three democratic procedures safeguard Californians against hasty and dangerous actions by the California State Legislature:

▪ Every bill gets a legislative hearing.

▪ Committee staff provides an impartial analysis of each bill.

▪ Members of the public are heard. 

Legislators Scheming With Insurance Companies To Raise Rates

(The following was originally published as an op-ed commentary in the Mercury News.)

With Californians in COVID lockdown, industry lobbyists are working to overturn voter-approved consumer protections

August 2, 2020

State lawmakers are preparing a gift for you: a massive increase in the premiums you pay to insure your home and property.

633,000 Signatures For Russ Kussman and Steven Olsen

We have now collected more than 633,000 signatures for the Fairness For Injured Patients Act -- which will adjust the 1975 cap on compensation for injured patients.

We expect to finish collecting signatures at the end of March to qualify the ballot initiative for the November California ballot.

I want to share with you two events this weekend that brought home for me the imperative of this effort.

Conviction Is In Every Hand With Trump's Raw Deal Playing Cards

Whether the US Senate acknowledges it or not, we must never forget the raw deal behind Trump's corruption.

Mick Malvaney may be out as White House Chief of Staff, but he will always be the 9 of Clubs on in the Trump's Raw Deal Playing Card deck.

That's why acclaimed LA artist Charles Lynn “Chick” Bragg has teamed up with Consumer Watchdog Campaign (CW's campaign affilate) to offer a 54 face card, special-edition playing card deck featuring searing, satirical portraits of Trump's accomplices.

Why is the Oil Industry Harassing Consumer Watchdog?

As Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Michael Hiltzik lays out in his column today in the Los Angeles Times, the world’s biggest oil and gas companies have wasted over 500 hours of Consumer Watchdog’s legal time over the last 18 months trying to get a peek at how we know what we know about the oil industry.  Thank you to Consumer Watchdog staff attorney Danny Sternberg for all his hard work defending the organization.

Ricardo Lara’s Troubles Aside, Reverting To An Appointed Insurance Commissioner Would Hurt Consumers

Where the troubling trail of accusations dogging Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara will lead is hard to tell. State records show that insurance industry executives and their relatives gave tens of thousands of dollars to Lara’s campaign committee–even as he intervened on their behalf in cases before his agency. 

We’ll know more on Aug. 31. That’s when Lara has promised to make public his communications and calendars of meetings with the executives.

Wildfire Legislation On Track or Train Wreck?

Can Sacramento help wildfire victims get paid without bailing out the investor-owned utilities that claim they cannot pay for all of the wildfires they start?

The debate came to a head today in the California Senate Energy and Utilities Committee, where a parade of skeptics gave tenuous support to a proposal by the Newsom Administration. It tries to make sure shareholders pay for fires utilities start and ratepayers pay for fires where the utilities aren't at fault.

Assembly Insurance Committee Member Frank Bigelow Insurance Company Contributions

Frank Bigelow For Assembly 2018 

table, tr, td { border: 2px solid black; }

NAME OF CONTRIBUTOR

AMOUNT

TRANSACTION DATE

AETNA INC.

$1,000.00

8/15/17

AETNA INC.

$1,000.00

10/17/18

Consumer Watchdog Counters Tech Lobby Attacks In Comments to Attorney General on California’s Landmark Privacy Act

Sacramento—After last year’s passage of the landmark California Consumer Privacy Act, big tech companies including Google, Facebook, and the Chamber of Commerce are spending big on lobbying in Sacramento and Washington D.C.

Consumer Federation of America says California auto insurance protections are a model for the nation

The nonprofit Consumer Federation of America released a study this week finding that California’s tough “prior approval” regulation of auto insurance rates under Proposition 103 is a model for the nation. Nearly 30 years of insurance industry data show that California has maintained the slowest pace of premium growth of any state and built the second most competitive auto insurance market in the nation.

Consumers Win Prop 103 Transparency Battle With State Farm Insurance

A California court has rejected a request by State Farm, the nation’s largest insurance company, to conceal the financial arrangements between its $168 billion parent company, based in Bloomington, Indiana, and its California subsidiary, which sells homeowners insurance and claims it’s in financial trouble. 

Rein In Robot Cars, Or Humans Will Lose The Right Of Way

People are fighting back against robot cars.

Self-driving cars being tested in Arizona by Waymo, a Google sister company, have been attacked by residents in at least 21 separate incidents, according to the Arizona Republic. People in the Chandler area have thrown rocks at the cars, slashed their tires and run them off the road. One man even pulled a gun on a Waymo test driver.

As Paradise Burned, 12 Legislators Partied In Maui With Utility Execs & Lobbyists

As wildfire victims fled for their lives in Paradise and Malibu this November, utility executives and lobbyists for California's big utilities were wining and dining 12 influential state legislators in a different paradise -- Wailea, Maui.

The New York Times broke the story about the junket and the discussion about the wildfires there, which had to include the the inevitable bailout for the utilities that helped spark the blaze. 

2018 Wins, 2019 Resolutions

Given the divide in America, it’s truly been remarkable how much we have accomplished together in 2018. Below's just some of what we accomplished in 2018, and you can also watch this short highlights video about our victories.

The nation’s toughest online privacy law:  A new California law requires that companies tell you what information they collect about you, give you the right to say no, and are legally accountable for data breaches.

Consumer Watchdog Joins Coalition of 22 Consumer and Privacy Groups Calling on FTC to End Google’s Apps Store’s Exploitation of Kids

Consumer Watchdog has joined a coalition of 22 consumer and public health advocacy groups calling on the Federal Trade Commission to stop Google’s app store from promoting games that violate children’s privacy, feature inappropriate content, and lure kids to watch ads and make in-app purchases.

Beholden Chris Holden’s Big Utility Tent

Assembly Member Chris Holden is the point man for Pacific Gas and Electric on its legislative bailout plans over the 2018 fires. That's why we paid his holiday party a visit.  Watch us sing Chris Holden our holiday carols.

First, we carolers had to convince some beefy Pasadena police that we didn’t come to Assemblyman Chris Holden’s Christmas open house at his district office to disrupt the festivities and dirty up the place (though we did leave a lunch bag of coal behind).

Top 10 US Insurance Companies Invest $51 Billion In Fossil Fuels

Los Angeles, CA — As a UN panel finds the world is losing the war with global warming and urgent action is needed, US insurance companies have reported holding more than $50.9 billion in fossil fuel investments that exacerbate climate change, according to reporting to national insurance regulators.

Consumer Watchdog’s review of public filings reveals nine of the 10 largest American insurance companies have considered the impact of climate change on their investments, but only two, AIG and Farmers, say that they have altered their investment strategy in response.

Double Victory: The Paint Boycott Worked

Yesterday was a big day for consumer justice!

Just 24 hours after we launched the #BoycottSherwinWilliams boycott, the paint company decided to pull its deceptive ballot initiative to erase its liability for poisoning families with lead in its paint. 

Add that victory to the signing of yesterday's online California consumer privacy law and June 28th 2018 will go down in history as a monumental day for consumer rights.

Boycott Sherwin-Williams Paint!

UPDATE: 6/28/18 5 PM The Boycott worked! Sherwin Williams and Con Agra pulled their ballot measure from the November ballot. Congrats to all.

 

Paint maker Sherwin Williams has decided to go to the California ballot with a deceptive ballot initiative to erase its liability to the public for poisoning families with lead in its paint. We have decided to boycott Sherwin Williams paint stores.

Legendary Nurses Leader RoseAnn DeMoro Gives Call to Arms Speech at Rage for Justice

At the 2018 Rage for Justice Awards on June 2nd, 2018, the Consumer Advocate Hall of Fame Award was presented to RoseAnn DeMoro for her career leading the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Association to fight for patients and improved healthcare. A tireless advocate that has fought many political battles over her career, she still wishes to see one more victory in Sacramento, the end of MICRA, a law from 1975 limiting medical malpractice damages for pain and suffering to $250,000.

Frank Pitre takes on PG&E

Frank Pitre was presented with the Lifetime Legal Achievement Award at the 2018 Rage For Justice Awards on June 2nd, 2018, at the Beverly Wilshire. His career has been defined by standing up for the unprotected, the vulnerable, the disenfranchised. Here is the tribute video to Frank as well as his acceptance speech. 

Frank Pitre

 

Not Every Angeleno Prospers In The Oil Economy

“Not every Angeleno is going to prosper in the ‘Next-Gen new economy,’” according to a recent newspaper ad by the State Building & Construction Trades. The union wants politicians not to “be bullied into supporting job killing regulations that are designed to shutter yet another Southern California industry.” This one being the oil and gas industry.

CURES Database Will Be Vital in Preventing Opioid Deaths but Faces Powerful Special Interest Opposition

Every doctor in California will soon be required to use the most powerful tool we have to identify and prevent opioid abuse: the state prescription drug database known as CURES. Beginning in October, doctors will have to check the database and review a patient’s prescription history before prescribing opioids and other dangerous drugs.

No Free Lunch on Facebook

Much of the criticism of Mark Zuckerberg's testimony in Congress from the public and the media alike was leveled at members of Congress for asking supposedly stupid questions rather than at Mark Zuckerberg for his disingenuous responses. "Congress doesn't understand Facebook," claimed Dylan Byers of CNN.

Speed Not Safety Is California Senate’s Concern In Robot Car Hearing

The California Senate Transportation and Housing Committee’s hearing this week, “Autonomous Vehicles: Opportunities and Challenges,” was meant to be an opportunity to field questions and concerns representing both public and private interests about putting self-driving cars on the road. Instead, the Senate committee’s investment in protecting corporate interests ultimately outweighed senators’ concern for the public. 

Lawyers Get The Dough And DWP Ratepayers Get The Shaft, Sound Familiar?

A Superior Court Judge today approved a settlement of a class action lawsuit brought against the Department of Water & Power (DWP) and City of Los Angeles for illegally taxing ratepayers billions of dollars on their power bills and using it for city services, rejecting our objection. Under 2010’s voter-approved Prop 26, money raised from power rates that is not used to improve utility service is an illegal tax and to make it lega

Gov. Brown Should Stop Protecting the Oil Industry

Governor Jerry Brown sells himself as one of the world’s foremost climate change warriors. But as long as he protects the oil industry, California will miss its ambitious 2030 greenhouse gas emissions targets.

In Europe recently, Governor Brown touted “cap-and-trade” as the answer. A new report by Near Zero, an adviser to the state on its market mechanism to control emissions, shows why he is wrong.

Wildfires Should Ignite Crackdown on State Farm To Be Better Neighbor

The wildfires devastating Bel Air, Ventura and Southern California's canyons are destroying homes in their path. Unfortunately, many of those homeowners are going to find that when they try to rebuild their homeowners' policies may not cover the real costs.

It's a sad cycle that happens after too many wildfires, include the historic devastation fires wrought recently in Sonoma and Napa Valley. 

Failure to adequately regulate utilities helped fuel CA wildfires

Originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Corruption can kill.

The fires that laid waste to California’s Wine Country and at least 42 lives were not merely the product of a changing climate and extra-heated winds. 

Early reports suggest the failure of Gov. Jerry Brown and his appointees to adequately regulate our public utilities to prevent such fires also fueled the fast-moving flames.

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly From Brown's Pen

Consumers looking for bold action this year on laws protecting their wallets from rapacious drug companies, their privacy from the prying eyes of telecom companies, and their environment from the degradation of the oil and gas industry, didn't get any. But they did get some legislation that helps them take banks to court for fraud and to follow the money behind political ads.

The Ugly:

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti Just Sold Los Angeles Down The Aqueduct

Mayor Eric Garcetti just sold out Los Angeles by pushing through the Delta Tunnels. Two of his five appointees to the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), the giant water wholesaler for the region, voted yes on diverting water from the Sacramento River under the San Francisco Bay Delta to the South, helping to ensure an overwhelming majority vote. 

Seriously, Will Governor Sign A Bill Benefitting Just One Developer And His Sister?

Every day, we have been scanning Governor Jerry Brown’s legislative updates. So far, he hasn’t signed SB 634, a bill with the innocuous, sleepy-sounding name of “Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency.” 

The bill is anything but innocuous and sleepy. 

We thought the days of bills benefitting just one company were over. They aren’t, and this one benefits not just developer Five Point Holdings, but Kathleen Brown, Jerry’s little sister.

TGIF in America Again?

Sharing the midday, San Francisco sunlight with Bernie Sanders Friday, I had a rare feeling these days, that everything is going to be all right.  It felt just the way Bob Marley sang it.

Bernie thundered away from the stage in Yerba Buena park to the applause of a thousand nurses from the mighty California Nurses Association and thousands more San Franciscans on their lunch break. It’s hard not to feel good on a sunny day in Frisco surrounded by a sea of nurses standing a few feet from Bernie and Jane Sanders.

End of Session Hijinks In Sacramento Leave Consumers In Cold

As the legislature ended its business for the year in the early morning hours, legislative leaders proclaimed a prolific progressive session. Not so if you care about consumer protection.

Key public interest causes were abandoned because of the power of the usual moneyed interest groups and the dependency of state house politicians on them.

Will Google and Big Tech End Child Sex Trafficking Or Keep Fighting for Their Legal Shield?

In the documentary “I am Jane Doe,” which hits Netflix this weekend, a mother Nacole S. talks about how her daughter was turned into a child prostitute for 108 days by a website, Backpage.com, that has legal immunity even though it helped pimps traffick in children by crafting ads and makes hundreds of millions of dollars doing it. That’s according to a US Senate report on the topic, not the National Enquirer.

Single Payer Takes A Step Forward

Late Wednesday afternoon, the Senate Health Committee voted decisively to move S.B. 562 to the floor of the Senate. The Healthy California Act would establish a single-payer, Medicare-for-all system in the state, ensuring that all Californians have access to affordable healthcare. The bill was proposed by Senator Toni Atkins and Senator Ricardo Lara as well as aided by the support of the California Nurses Association, physicians, and a coalition of progressive organizations.

Medical Board Oversight of California Doctors Remains Broken, Consumer Watchdog Will Testify Today at Legislative Hearing into Board's Future

Sacramento, CA – Physician oversight remains broken four years after a legislative review committee considered shutting down the Medical Board of California if it did not improve patient protection, Consumer Watchdog will testify today at the sunset review hearing into the future of the Board.

Jerry Brown Not So Green: CA Ratepayers Overpaid Billions For Dirty Energy

Californians are paying billions of dollars too much for electric plants we don’t need. That’s the finding of a major Los Angeles Times investigation and a new Consumer Watchdog report explains why.

Governor Brown has embraced the building of fossil fuel generated electricity, along with the reopening of Aliso Canyon’s gas reserve, even while Californians have a glut of electric capacity.

Note To Prez: Keystone XL Will Raise Gas Prices, Not Create US Jobs

The populist president just revived what will be a bad economic deal for Midwest gas prices and American jobs, the Keystone XL pipeline.

My nonprofit group Consumer Watchdog studied the issue in 2013 and found that the Keystone XL extension was a way to move Canadian crude to Asia through the gulf coast, which would re-route cheap crude that now feeds Midwest refineries. The likely result: higher Midwest gasoline prices.

T-Rex Tillerson To Save Oil Industry From Extinction As Secretary of State?

Would longtime Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson make the most inappropriate Secretary of State in American history? 

Make no mistake. T-Rex would have one key mission: rescue the oil industry from near extinction following rising global awareness of climate change.

In 2012, Vladimir Putin was quoted saying to Tillerson, “Mr. Tillerson, I am very happy to see you... This is already our second meeting in a short span of time and there is a good explanation for this: increasingly close relations are being forged between your company and Russian market players.” (Bloomberg News)

Petition to National Highway Transportation Safety Administration To Require New Auto Safety Technologies

Three advanced auto safety technologies can prevent thousands of deaths and injuries each year, and billions of dollars in property damage, caused by rear-end crashes. Using combinations of radar, lidar (reflected laser light) and cameras, these technologies – known as Automatic Emergency Braking – are able to help prevent collisions. But right now, they’re mostly available only as expensive options on luxury cars – depriving millions of Americans of these life-saving protections.

Transamerica Life Illegally Hikes "Cost of Insurance" Charges

Feller et al v. Transamerica Life Insurance Company, United States District Court, Central District of California (Case 2:16-cv-01378)

Consumers who bought life insurance protection from Transamerica Insurance Company decades ago are now facing a choice between paying enormous increases in their monthly premiums or losing their policies, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Los Angeles by Consumer Watchdog and other consumer advocates on behalf of Transamerica policyholders nationwide.

Aetna and Coventry Discriminate Against HIV/AIDS Patients in Violation of the Affordable Care Act

Aetna, Inc., and its subsidiary Coventry Health Care Inc., are attempting to circumvent the central reform of the Affordable Care Act—the so called “guaranteed issue” provision, which ensures all patients are guaranteed access to health insurance regardless of their health condition—by discouraging patients with HIV/AIDS from enrolling in or remaining enrolled in Aetna and Coventry health plans, according to two national class action lawsuits currently being litigated by Whatley Kallas, LLP and Consumer Watchdog.