By Staff Reporters, INSURANCE JOURNAL
September 4, 2019
Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara has offered an apology for accepting campaign contributions from the insurance industry.
Lara in a letter that was reportedly sent on Tuesday acknowledged that his campaign solicited contributions from the insurance industry, despite a campaign pledge not to do so.
Lara’s letter was sent to several groups, including United Policyholders, Public Advocates and Health Access.
One of the groups calling out Lara’s campaign contributions loudest has been Santa Monica, Calif.-based Consumer Watchdog.
The group has demanded he produce public records related to meetings with insurance industry representatives who reportedly gave him the campaign contributions.
Consumer Watchdog on Wednesday said it still has not received those particular records.
The Consumer Watchdog request and Lara’s apology letter stems from an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune in July that showed Lara received $54,300 in campaign donations for his 2022 reelection campaign from people linked to two insurance companies, Applied Underwriters and Independence Holding Co.
In some instances, Lara received large checks from the relatives of insurance industry executives with business pending before the commissioner, according to Consumer Watchdog.
Lara has since agreed to give the money back.
In his letter Lara also offered an apology that states he believes public service demands adherence to the highest of ethical standards.
“But during my campaign and first six months in office, my campaign operation scheduled meetings and solicited campaign contributions that did not fall in line with commitments I made to refuse contributions from the insurance industry,” the letter states. “I take full responsibility for that and am deeply sorry.”
Spokesmen for Lara and the California Department of Insurance could not be immediately reached for comment.
Lara in his letter says he has terminated his contractual relationship with the fundraising personnel involved, and that even though no laws or rules were broken, “I must hold myself to a higher standard.”
He outlined some reforms he’s also adopting:
- I am implementing rigorous vetting protocols and am retaining experts to develop new processes for the screening and reporting of all outside political activity – to ensure greater transparency and no direct connection to the insurance industry or Department-regulated entities – consistent with best practices.
- I am placing a strict moratorium on all fundraising activity for my re-election campaign until at least the end of this calendar year, while these new processes are being implemented.
- I am requesting that Department attorneys develop new publicly-available protocols for scheduling and conducting meetings with external stakeholders, especially Department-regulated entities.
- I am ordering regular public release of my official calendar of meetings with external stakeholders.
“I look forward to the work ahead, and renew my commitment to hold myself to the highest ethical standards as your state Insurance Commissioner,” the letter concludes.