By Hannah Wiley and Elizabeth Shwe, SACRAMENTO BEE - Capitol Alert AM Newsletter

August 5, 2019

https://www.sacbee.com/site-services/newsletters/capitol-morning/articl…

After nearly two months since Consumer Watchdog filed a Public Records Act request seeking Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara’s calendars, the department said it plans to release the documents by Aug. 31.

Consumer Watchdog filed a request demanding “appointment schedules, calendars, meeting logs, phone call logs, mobile phone records, and any other records relating to any meetings or phone calls” with industry executives.

The Sacramento Bee also filed a similar request, and can expect the records by the same deadline, per an email from the department.

Not good enough — Consumer Watchdog said it wasn’t satisfied with the deadline. The group’s litigation director wrote to the department that the team is “very disappointed and concerned that the department is delaying production.”

“Please explain why the department proposes another month of delay until any responsive documents are produced,” Jerry Flanagan wrote, continuing that it was “fundamentally unfair” for the department to propose another four-week lag.

The records will hopefully clear up whether the California insurance commissioner ever met with industry executives who donated more than $54,000 to his reelection campaign. Lara’s office originally denied Consumer Watchdog’s request for the calendars, but backtracked after news broke about the contributions in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Flanagan also wrote a letter in July with threats of a lawsuit should the commissioner’s records not be made public.

Since then, KQED and The Bee reported that Lara met with the CEO of a company that has multiple complaints against it in cases before his department.

Lara said he met with CEO Steven M. Menzies, who heads Applied Underwriters, a workers’ compensation agency that the department formerly settled with for “bait and switch” marketing tactics in 2017. Berkshire Hathaway is in the process of selling the company, a sale Lara must approve.

During his 2018 election campaign, Lara said he would not take political money from insurers.

The insurance commissioner has since pledged to return the contributions, and campaign finance reports indicate that he has. He also said he’d appoint a new person to fill his role as his own campaign treasurer.

“My pledge was to not take money from insurers, so when I found out, I immediately returned the money,” Lara said. “I put a third party person to make sure we review all checks that come in and I also recused myself from having any decisions regarding this insurance company.”