In a story by Associated Press (AP) editor Mike Liedtke that ran in newspapers late last month, Farmers' Political Action Committee was said to have raised $229,000 in support for Calderon, including $3,500 from seven repair shops. The article noted that insurance interests have given in total over $1 million to Calderon's campaign and that some repair shop owners contacted by Farmers and later interviewed by the AP felt "pressured to give or risk losing business."
Autobody News' deadline allowed only limited time to contact shop owners. One COD shop owner in Los Angeles County said he frankly didn't recall ever receiving the letter or being solicited in person for a donation, but that it "irks the hell out of me if they did that, especially with the way Farmers has been nickel and diming us to death lately." The manager of a COD dealer body shop said he had "received the letter, considered it for a moment, and tossed it in the trash."
A quick review of the PAC contribution list by Autobody News found at least $9,300 in contributions from companies identifiable on the list as body shops. These included consolidator Caliber Collision in Irvine - $1,500; Golden West Autobody in San Jose - $1,500; Imperial Autobody in La Habra - $1,500; DA-Les Autobody, Sunnyvale - $1,500; Ben Clymer The Body Shop of Riverside - $200.00; Rocci's Autobody in Morgan Hill - $250.00; Sp;ring Autobody & Pai0nt, San Jose - $250.00; Monterey Collision, Frame & Body in San Jose - $250.00; Golden City Autobody in San Francisco - $250.00; Prime Autoworks in North Hollywood - $250.00; Schiro's Collision in North Hollywodd, $100.00; Performance Autobody in Rancho Cuchamonga - $500.00; Cook's Collision in Walnut Creek - $250.00; Greg's Collision Center in Bellflower - $100.00; Faith Quality Autobody in Murrieta, $150.00; International AutoCrafters in Moreno Valley - $250.00; Tom Bell Chevrolet in Redlands - $250.00; Top Finish Collision in Santa Ana - $250.00.
Body shops were not the largest contributors to Farmers PAC by any means; that honor goes to the law firms Farmers hires to defend their personal injury actions. The law firms gave thousands of dollars each. The body shops did manage to surpass Farmers' own Senior VP and Chief Financial Officer, Gerald E. Faulwell - he gave only ten bucks.
The letter sent by Farmers' vice president Ron Coble on October 12, 2001 reads as follows:
Farmers Insurance Group
3041 Cochran St.
Simi Valley, CA 93099
Dear Business Owner:
Farmers Employee & Agent Political Action Committee is proud to promote Assembly Member Tom Calderon for the office of Insurance Commissioner.
To assist Mr. Calderson on rasising funds for his election, we are fholding seeral events (outlined in attached flyer).
As a vendor and business partner with Farmers, we are asking for your support and contributions to our efforts.
Mr. Calderon is a moderate Democrat, who is sensitive to issues that affect our industry and small businesses in general. Within a few days, a representative of Farmers will be following up to see if you would like to join us and show your support by signing up for one of the various options outlined in the attached flyer.
Your support is entirely voluntary and if you choose not to join us, it will not have any impact on our business relationship.
We thank you for your consideration and look forward to seeing you at one of our events if you choose to join us.
Ron Coble, LUTCF
VP and State Executive Directior
Assemblyman Calderon (D-Montebello) represents a working class district south of Los Angeles. Most of his legislation has been education and consumer oriented. As chairman of the Assembly Insurance Committee he has sponsored several bills on Workers Comp reform. He has in fact painted himself as a champion of small business. Last year he honored four business owners in his district for their contributions to the community including Ray Bueno, owner of R&B Body Shop in Santa Fe Springs.