SACRAMENTO—With a onetime State Farm official and a former insurance lobbyist in top staff jobs, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is repeatedly siding with insurers in legislative battles as they maneuver to fend off fees, fines and concessions to policyholders.
A veteran insurance lobbyist, Dan Dunmoyer, is now the governor's deputy chief of staff, helping to craft his entire policy portfolio. Former State Farm official Kathleen Webb is Schwarzenegger's insurance advisor, vetting insurance-related bills that reach his desk and recommending which he should sign into law.
When insurance-related bills have crossed Schwarzenegger's desk, he has sided with -- or at least not opposed -- the industry nearly nine times in 10, a review of 56 bills tracked by insurance groups shows. At other times, he has sought to kill or blunt legislation before it reached him.
Administration officials have sent letters to lawmakers, for example, warning of their opposition to bills that the industry wants defeated -- letters that in some cases coincide with industry lobbying campaigns to beat back the legislation.
"I don't know that I can point to one pro-consumer bill that has made it through and been signed by the governor in recent history," said Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento).
The governor vetoed one bill that would have extended for nine years insurance industry fees that pay for seismic research. He rejected another that would have barred insurers from raising auto rates for home healthcare workers who use their cars to assist low-income patients. He also vetoed a measure that might have required insurance companies, rather than the state, to pay the medical expenses of certain accident victims.
"People expected of Arnold Schwarzenegger independent advisors who would bring a fresh perspective," said Doug Heller, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. "Instead, the governor has brought in State Farm and its cronies."
Meanwhile, insurance money has poured into Schwarzenegger's campaign accounts. Since he jumped into the recall campaign in 2003, he has collected about $4.4 million in donations from insurance interests, state records show.
Schwarzenegger promised as a candidate in 2003 that he would purge the capital of powerful "special interests." But he pleased environmental activists in 2003 by hiring one of their own, Terry Tamminen, who was among the governor's most influential aides before resigning last month. And Richard Costigan, a former lobbyist for the California Chamber of Commerce, the state's chief business advocate, is the administration's top liaison to the Legislature.
Now Schwarzenegger has elevated insurance interests to senior levels of his government, giving them too much influence, in the view of consumer groups.
The governor's aides insist that the industry receives no special treatment. If consumer groups don't see the governor's staff, it is because they haven't asked, they said.
Consumer activists said they've seen no point in contacting insurance advisor Webb.
"It's pretty much assumed that under this administration, we were not going to get anything meaningful signed," said Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders, a nonprofit group that offers information to the public on insurance matters.
Bach added: "As an advisor, it's incumbent on her to seek us out."
For Dunmoyer's part, his involvement in insurance issues is limited to offering "expertise" to colleagues inside government who are responsible for insurance matters, said Adam Mendelsohn, Schwarzenegger's communications director.
"No industry or organization gets a more sympathetic ear from this administration to the exclusion of another industry or organization," Mendelsohn said.
But insurers see in the governor a reliable ally. Stephen Lilienthal, chief executive officer of CNA insurance companies, wrote in a June letter soliciting money for Schwarzenegger's reelection that the governor "has been a critical first line of defense" for the industry.
CNA, a commercial insurer, has spent $275,000 lobbying in Sacramento since Schwarzenegger took office.