Ex–Democratic assemblyman turned insurance industry lobbyist Juan Vargas quietly kicked off his bid to replace termed-out incumbent state senator Denise Ducheny last week by personally making a $100,000 loan to his own campaign fund, state records show. When Vargas left office in December 2006 after six years in the assembly, he was scorned by critics for breaking his longtime pledge not to go to work for the insurance business. As a legislator, he carried much legislative water for the industry, which gave him some $335,000 in campaign contributions.
As vice president of “external relations” for Seattle-based Safeco Insurance, Vargas filed a statement in June 2007 authorizing contract lobbyist Norwood & Associates to represent the insurer in Sacramento. Through the end of that year, Norwood was paid $50,264; Safeco also spent a total of $123.10 to wine and dine Democratic senator Ron Calderon and Assemblywoman Nicole Parra at the Hotel del Coronado that October. During the same period, the firm made $25,214 in campaign contributions; $3000 went to Assemblyman Joe Coto, who succeeded Vargas as chairman of the assembly’s Insurance Committee. Termed out this year, Coto has vowed not to work for an insurance company.
Safeco, then America’s 23rd-largest insurer, was purchased by Boston-based Liberty Mutual in a $6.2 billion deal that closed in September of last year. Liberty Mutual spokesman Chris Goetcheus said Vargas is still employed by the company as a public affairs vice president for the western states but could offer no other details. Vargas did not respond to a message left with a woman at the phone number listed on his campaign disclosure filings.