By JACK WEATHERLY
Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney is far outstripping his challenger in campaign contributions as they head toward a Republican primary on Aug. 4.
Chaney, who is seeking his third term as commissioner, reported on his May 8 form with the Secretary of State that he has received $116,425 this year, compared with John Mosley, owner of Clinton Body Shops in Clinton and Richland, who reported $46,250 — more than two-thirds of which, $33,000, came out his own pocket.
Chaney’s cash on hand amount stood at $338,089.43. He said in an interview in March that he would need $300,000 to $400,000 in his war chest. There is no Democratic candidate, so the winner of the primary will become commissioner.
Mosley said in an interview Tuesday that he’s going to put more into his campaign chest.
He cited contributions to Chaney, a former state senator and representative, from large insurance companies. The Travelers Insurance group based in Hartford, Ct. contributed $5,000. Farmers Insurance of Los Angeles donated $1,000. Nationwide Mutual Insurance of Columbus, Ohio, gave $1,000.
Chaney said in a March interview that “we don’t take money from big insurance companies.” He also said that “if I see where I have to regulate somebody” who has offered campaign money he said he would refuse it.
Efforts to reach Chaney to ask him whether any of the large-insurer donors come under his authority were not successful by press time on Wednesday.
Marty Wiseman, former political science professor and director of The Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, said that “for a somewhat obscure position like insurance commissioner, it goes without saying that [Chaney] has developed a significant following, in large measure because of his efforts with insurance exchanges . . . a very popular move on his part.
“Of course, it went against the grain of the prevailing Republican Party sentiment. He began an effort to create a system of exchanges during the Barbour administration.
“Haley Barbour was for that before it even became part of Obamacare. Chaney did his homework and created what would’ve become . . . very effective, and [current Gov. Phil] Bryant blocked it.
Chaney spokesman Joseph Ammerman said Barbour urged Chaney to establish exchanges. “It started out as very much a Republican idea. Then suddenly it changed and it became ‘Obamacare’ and Phil was very much against it. He didn’t want to expand Medicaid.”
One exchange would have been the one that many states now operate under the Affordable Care Act of 2010, Ammerman said. One was established for small businesses, he said, but it no longer exists.
“I think it would be very hard to beat [Chaney] because he’s going to be able to pull a lot of votes from across the board. He’s a popular Republican, but yet he’s going to get Democratic and independent votes,” Wiseman said.
Mosley is a plaintiff in one of many lawsuits that are being tried in the U.S. District Court for Middle Florida. As a candidate, he proposes changes in state laws to make it harder for insurer abuses.
Several hundred body shop owners from many states contend that insurance companies practice “steering” of customers to certain body shops that use after-market and inferior replacement parts.
State Attorney General Jim Hood wrote a letter dated March 13 to then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, asking him to investigate the alleged practice.
Hood spokeswoman Jan Schaefer said on Tuesday that no response has been received from Holder, who subsequently resigned, or his successor, Loretta Lynch, but that Hood was checking with the federal agency on the matter.