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South Mississippi Living 4/07

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Oxford lawyer Scruggs funds ad against GOP insurance commissioner hopeful

  • GOP candidate for insurance post claims he's avoiding fight

  • Scruggs
    File Photo/The Clarion-Ledger

    Originally published November 4, 2007

    Oxford lawyer Dickie Scruggs is funding a new attack ad on Republican insurance commissioner hopeful Mike Chaney.

    Chaney has been accused by Democratic opponent Gary Anderson of cozying up to insurance companies, and the new ad reiterates that.

    But Chaney said he's independent and is steering clear of a fight with Scruggs.

    Anderson, a former state chief fiscal officer, said he's not involved with the ad.

    It's unclear how Scruggs' involvement could affect the outcome of the race between Chaney and Anderson on Tuesday, but some attribute the attorney with helping bring down George Dale, the longest- serving insurance commissioner in the nation.

    "I am concerned that we are going from bad to worse with Mike Chaney," Scruggs said. "He's going to be insurance-friendly, at least to the extent George Dale was."

    At the end of July, Scruggs announced he was contributing $250,000 to Mississippians for Fair Elections, a PAC "created to raise awareness about the role the insurance commissioner plays."

    One reason he and Dale were at odds was because Scruggs' law firm represented hundreds of property owners who sued insurers over unpaid claims after Hurricane Katrina while Dale sponsored a program to allow victims to resolve claims without seeking litigation.

    Dale lost to Anderson in the August primary.

    "After that, I would have just let this thing run its course," Scruggs said last week. "But then (Chaney) attacked me personally."

    In a letter sent by Chaney's campaign, the state senator calls Scruggs a "greedy" personal injury lawyer who has "made millions and millions of dollars by suing Mississippi businesses."

    In an interview with The Clarion-Ledger, Chaney said the letter was a "wrong draft" and that he talked to Scruggs about the mistake after it was sent out.

    "He wants to make this personal; I don't," Chaney said. "He told me he was staying out of this race and that's obviously not the case."

    Scruggs said the new ad was being funded through the PAC.

    But Chaney and others have charged Scruggs may be contributing to Anderson's campaign more directly as well.

    "A man that worked for the state of Mississippi doesn't have that type of money," said Chaney, referring to a $200,000 loan Anderson reported giving himself in the Oct. 30 campaign finance reports.

    "Do I think Dickie Scruggs is financing his campaign? Sure, I do."

    But Anderson, asked repeatedly whether the loan came from Scruggs or the PAC, said the money was from his "personal assets."

    "I don't have anything to do (with the ad)," he said. "This is their issue, not my issue."

    Anderson said his career in the public and private sectors has enabled him to make good investments and that "those investments have paid off for me."

    Still, Anderson said Chaney should be criticized for taking money from those associated with insurance industry.

    "I believe the voters will say the insurance commissioner is not for sale," he said. "I have had to fund my campaign myself because I'm not taking money from insurance companies."

    Chaney has acknowledged he was taking donations from insurance agents but not from large companies.

    "(Agents) are my neighbors, my friends," he said. "They're the first people I call when I have a claim, and I'm not going to shut them out in an election that is this important."

    It's unclear whether negative advertising can affect the way someone votes, said Allan McBride, professor of political science at the University of Southern Mississippi.

    "One is that they provide information," he said. "They lay out what the person may have done wrong. There is a sense that a lot of voters might appreciate that."

    On the other hand, some research shows tarring the other candidate doesn't matter at all, McBride said.<>

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