Justice quarrels with TV ad claim

Kim Berfield's ad claims Charlie Justice has taken money from insurance companies, but Justice notes that she has done the same.

Published October 3, 2006

The Republican Party is running a television commercial that slams Democratic state Senate candidate Charlie Justice for catering to the insurance industry.

"After taking thousands from the insurance industry, Justice voted to make it easier to for insurers to drop your coverage," the ads read.

But Justice calls the ad "the height of hypocrisy," because his Republican opponent Kim Berfield has collected the lion's share of insurance contributions in the race.

The two are running in state Senate District 16, which includes portions of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, and is currently represented by Jim Sebesta.

Sarah Bascom, spokeswoman for Berfield, said the commercial was designed to point out that Justice voted against a major insurance bill passed by the Legislature last year that contained a provision designed to restrict insurer's ability to drop policyholders.

Justice has favored a Democrat-backed plan to convert Citizens Property Insurance and the state's reinsurance fund into a new fund that would cover the first $100,000 in wind damage on any Florida home.

"I've always questioned Ms. Berfield's voting record but now to see her flat out lie and try to label me as the Insurance Industry insider is a new low for her," Justice said in a news release.

To bolster its claims, the commercial cites newspaper articles including an Aug. 8 story from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel about the amount of cash insurance companies have funneled into Florida campaigns.

But the article does not mention either Berfield or Justice by name. It does say Republicans have received about $3 out of every $4 contributed by the industry.

Bascom said Berfield has never denied taking contributions from the insurance industry, as well as other groups.

A St. Petersburg Times story last month indicated that Berfield had received $73,000 from the insurance industry, nearly 15 times as much as Justice. Berfield also was named representative of the year in 2004 by the Florida Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors and the Florida Insurance Council.

Bascome said the ad also is designed to make the point that Berfield, who has been chairwoman of the House insurance committee, has been actively working on solutions to the insurance crisis.

Justice, in contrast, has done little more than "sit on the sidelines and be a naysayer," Bascome said.

Curtis Krueger can be reached at 727 893-8232 or krueger@sptimes.com.