His explanation has a caught-with-a-hand-in-the-cookie-jar quality.
By THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE EDITORIAL BOARD
July 8, 2019
In 2000, state Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush abruptly resigned after an investigation showed he had ordered his agency’s lawyers to settle complaints against companies the Department of Insurance regulated not with fines but with $12.8 million in donations to foundations he had set up to promote his political career and to causes he supported. Ever since, insurance commissioners have been careful not to take campaign help from the firms under their purview.
Inexplicably, former state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, did not stick to this obvious standard after he was narrowly elected insurance commissioner last November. An investigation by The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Jeff McDonald found that Lara’s campaign “reported accepting more than $50,000 in donations in recent months from insurance company executives and their apparent spouses.” Even though he promised during the 2018 campaign not to take such donations, Lara initially refused to comment to McDonald on their propriety, instead saying in a statement that he should be judged on his job performance.
In a reversal Monday in an email to an editorial writer, Lara vowed to return the questionable donations. As his own campaign treasurer, he faulted himself for failing “to properly vet all contributions.”
Give Lara credit for blaming himself instead of an underling, but his initial response showed poor judgment and his excuse has a caught-with-a-hand-in-the-cookie-jar quality. Lara was an effective state lawmaker and may become a successful insurance commissioner. But the misstep may haunt him politically if he makes other such errors in judgment.