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Summer Recess

E-227 - Monday, July 22, 2019

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  • Consumer Watchdog
  • Emerging star in Katie Porter?
  • Wildfires and insurance
  • The gig economy
  • Cakeday  

Happy Monday! The Giants are at .500. Who woulda thunk?

It will be another quiet July Monday morning with just a few items as I return to working on more Premium analyses.

CONSUMER WATCHDOG: Joe Mathews looks at the nonprofit organization that gains the most from the recent media reports finding Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara accepted campaign contributions from industry officials after pledging not to.

"For those not familiar with them, Santa Monica-based ConsumerWatchdog excels at headline-grabbing attacks, highlighting campaign contributions to elected officials from interest groups. It then turns around and uses these articles in fundraising pitches and in appealing to deep-pocketed donors – just as it has with its attacks on Lara (an email soliciting contributions went out barely after the ink was dry on the Union-Tribune story).

But here’s the hypocrisy that rarely gets reported: ConsumerWatchdog refuses to disclose who finances their pay-to-play operations, hiding under the shield of being a “charity.” It’s a classic do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do tactic.

In this instance, reporters also failed to note that the group has received hundreds of millions of dollars from the Department through its intervenor program – a novel initiative that allows the group to interfere in insurance rate cases and get paid more than $600 per hour for the privilege. The program was set up in a ballot initiative, Prop 103, that was funded and sponsored by (guess who?!?) Consumer Watchdog, then known as the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. It’s a profitable arrangement that nets the group, on average, several million dollars per year."

The group’s extravagances don’t end there. According to its 2015 filings with the California Attorney Generals Office (the last available), ConsumerWatchdog’s part-time president Harvey Rosenfeld collected $449,300 in income. Its Executive Director, Jamie Court, hauled in $325,427 – not bad for a “charity” with a handful of employees and zero members (unlike legitimate consumer groups like Consumers Union).

Rosenfeld also operates another “charity”, the Consumer Education Foundation, that he paid himself $100,000 from. The “group”, which has assets of more than $2.1 million (and again, no members), has one sole purpose: to make a single grant of $200,000 to Rosenfeld’s other organization, ConsumerWatchdog. Nice arrangement, huh?"

EMERGING STAR IN KATIE PORTER: For CNN, Katie Lobosco reports on how first-term congresswoman Katie Porter (D-Irvine), while not part of "The Squad," has been turning heads with her policy chops.

"I remember saying to Elizabeth Warren -- she called me a couple weeks after I got here -- and talking to her and saying, 'I don't feel like I've found my voice,'" Porter told CNN in an interview this week in her Capitol Hill office. "And then a couple weeks after that she called me after Tim Sloan testified and retired and she was like, 'You so found your voice!' She was so happy."

She has been truly impressive in hearings in her early months, which is not easy from the back bench.

WILDFIRES AND INSURANCE: In the SDUT, Joshua Emerson Smith writes:

"Following several years of massively destructive blazes, insurance companies have been canceling policies and raising rates throughout rural parts of California, according to government officials and industry experts.

Complaints lodged with the state by rural residents facing a loss of insurance has nearly doubled in the last two years and increased by more than 570 percent since 2010, according to data from the California Department of Insurance.

Insurance industry representatives have readily acknowledged the situation, pointing to the sizable loses companies have endured over the last few years as a result of wildfire."

HOUSING: In the Chronicle, J.K. Dineen reports on how San Bruno's rejection of a 425-unit project near BART and CalTrain may give ammunition to both proponents and opponents of zoning reform.

The developer "agreed to add car and bike parking, a 40,000-square-foot “upscale” grocery store, 64 affordable units, street improvements and a community meeting space. He also pledged to pay $10 million into the city’s general fund to offset the increase in demand for public services from the new residents.

But none of that mattered July 10 when, after a six-hour hearing, a no vote by a single San Bruno council member killed the Mills Park Plaza development, a project that supporters argue would have revived 5 acres of land near BART, Caltrain and the city’s downtown."

Dineen reports on the odd council vote, which was among three members, as the two others own property within 1,000 feet of the project and are thus conflicted. Dineen writes:

"At the meeting, [councilman] Marty Medina echoed concerns that multiple Mills Park residents brought up during public comment — that the project would make parking and traffic worse and that it was out of scale with the neighborhood of mostly single-story ranch homes."

Give me an N... Give me an I... Give me an M...

A PROBLEM WITH THE "GIG" ECONOMY: The NY Times's Andy Newman went undercover as a food delivery rider in New York City and what he learned was that people don't tip. He closes:

"The next time you order takeout, do me a favor: Look your delivery worker in the eye. Wear clothes.

And don’t forget to tip — cash, please, since one app effectively pockets tips made via the app — and generously. If you’d give 20 percent to the server who walked across the restaurant to bring you dinner, why not the courier who rode halfway across town?"

The problem with the food delivery apps is that there is an assumption that each app's "delivery fee" goes to drivers/riders. How do you create a culture among users to unlearn that instinct and also keep small dollar cash around?

CAKEDAY after the jump...

Probolsky Research

#CAKEDAY: Happy birthday to Assemblyman Frank BigelowJennifer Rindahl, and Angie Tate!


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