Be There When Lightning Strikes

Politics

Set your text size: A A A

Insurance fight helps fill Apodaca's campaign fund

Apodaca Chart 1 Apodaca Chart 1

A fight between insurance giants helped fill state Sen. Tom Apodaca's campaign treasury last year.

 


The six-term incumbent from Hendersonville raised $132,647 in the second half of 2013, according to reports filed with the state Board of Elections. Of the total, $34,100 came from officers, agents or other employees of two insurance companies — National General Insurance and Amtrust — which were locked in a high stakes battle to defeat a bill supported by State Farm Insurance.
Apodaca, who owns a sureties bond company, is co-chair of the Senate Insurance Committee in addition to his role as chair of the Rules Committee, which controls the flow of legislation to the floor.
He said the insurance companies invited him to the fundraiser.
"I was absolutely shocked when they called me" and said they wanted to hold an event for him. "They had put together a big fundraiser with about 150 people from around the state."
Told that the donors had actually come from across the country, Apodaca said that was true. "They were from all over, California ..." he said.
A review by the Hendersonville Lightning of the campaign finance report showed that 56 donors affiliated with National General Insurance gave a total of $25,600. Employees and officers with Amtrust contributed $8,500. Formerly GMAC, National General Insurance moved its national headquarters to Winston-Salem last August.
Both National General and Amtrust were among the major players battling a bill that State Farm supported to relax some of the state's regulatory power.
"The commissioner came out against it, I came out against it and we were able to fight it back," Apodaca said.
Apodaca was on the side of an industry group that called itself the Protecting Low Automobile Insurance Rates Coalition. According to a website of the organization, the State Farm-backed bill would led to higher insurance rates, crippled the state insurance commissioner's ability to block rate increases, allowed insurers to file "unlimited rate increases on mandatory auto coverage," prevented "apples-to-apples policy shopping" by North Carolina drivers and resulted in more uninsured drivers.
"I kept telling them to leave it alone because the commissioner came out right on top" and opposed it, Apodaca said. "He said we've got the eighth cheapest rates in the country and this would take that away. Why would we do it?"
Although the bill died in last year's legislative session, the coalition that supported Apodaca says that the threat remains.
"Several large, out-of-state insurance companies are pushing legislation so that they can make more money off North Carolina's consumers," the coalition said. "They continue to push for massive change despite the fact that North Carolina's robust and stable auto insurance market is already highly competitive, with 166 insurers vying daily for business."

 

Apodaca has huge lead in money

Apodaca's campaign total for the 2014 election cycle showed that he had raised a total of $147,682 and spent $69,139. His cash on hand on Dec. 31 of $129,651 dwarfed the total of his one declared opponent, Democrat Rick Wood.
Wood's report showed that he raised $8,022, spent $1,826 and had cash remaining of $6,096 as of Dec. 31.
"We have now raised about $15,000, Wood said, counting money the campaign took in at his kickoff event last month. "He will outspend us but he will not outwork us."
"I think that when you compare where money is coming from, where our support is from, most of mine is individuals from the 48th Senate District," he added. "I think you'll find most of his is special interest money from outside the district and sometimes outside the state. That says a lot. The only thing that really matters is how many votes you get.
Hopefully money won't buy votes. It can buy a lot of influence. It can buy a lot of television time and newspaper ads but ultimately when people go into booth and privately vote they will decide."
His donors give a smaller amount that "indicates they're supportive and like the issues that I'm running on," he said. "I think the problem of money in politics is a big one. I think it was exacerbated by a recent Supreme Court decision that allowed more money into elections. Hopefully people can look beyond that to look at why people are running, how they stand on the issue, and hopefully we can overcome that difference" in campaign treasury totals.
Asked how he plans to compete against an opponent who raised $476,000 for the 2012 race, Wood said he for now relying on smaller scale events.
"Our fundraising strategy is to have a lot of meet-and-greets in homes," he said. "We've got at least 20 people that have volunteered to have one of those. We ask them to support us and one of the ways we ask them is to support us is financially. It's our get-out-the-vote, let me get to know people, and raise money. There will be some large fundraising events as we get into summer and fall."


More fundraising planned
Apodaca said he makes no apology for his strong pro-business record during six terms in the Senate. Business interests and their PACs donated generously even before the Republicans took control of the Senate in 2010 and the new Senate leader promoted him to Rules Committee chair.
"I think I raised $60,000 in personal money," he said. "I don't push locally for fundraising. It comes in from PACs. I don't pressure (local people). The other thing is I've been rated the top 1 or 2 pro-business legislator for the last five years."
It doesn't hurt that he's Insurance Committee chair either, he acknowledged, because big stakes battles like the fight last year cause the industry to pour money into the campaign coffers of one side or the other.
Apodaca said he plans to have more local fundraisers in 2014 than he's had in the past, in part because he has a stronger opponent than he's had in any election since be first won the seat in 2002.
"As Republicans we don't have the luxury of unions and stuff like that giving us money," he said. "We have to raise our own and we have to look to business for donations."
His campaign finance report also showed that he had donated money to local charities.
He donated $8,100 to local organizations, including $5,600 to the Henderson County Boys and Girls Club. He also donated $500 to Sheriff Charlie McDonald's election campaign.
His expenditures show that he paid $20,000 in rent since January 2013 for the Fifth Avenue office owned by his company, Southeastern Sureties. There's nothing improper or unusual about legislators using campaign money to rent offices owned by their companies, law firms or other firms.
"Just like we paid rent for three or four years," he said, "and see constituents four or five times a day. Actually I got the idea from Sen. (Martin) Nesbit (a Democrat from Asheville). He's been doing it for years."
The report showed that he had received $66,250 in PAC donations for the period ending Dec. 31, which was close to exactly half the total donations of $132,647. He had raised $147,682 during all of 2013, and of that total $76,200 came from PACs.