Commissioner Wooley's $577,000 From Insurance Industry Explains Industry-Friendly Response to Insurers' Refusal to Pay Claims
Louisiana Insurance Commissioner J. Robert Wooley received $577,000 in campaign contributions from the insurance industry between 2003 and 2004, according to a review by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR). Wooley, who is responsible for protecting Louisiana insurance policyholders from unfair insurance practices, has been an advocate for insurer positions in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the group said.
Since Katrina ravaged southern Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, Wooley has defended the insurance industry's proposition that companies have limited liability for the damage wrought by the hurricane, based on flood exclusions in insurance policies sold to homeowners. Consumer advocates point out that Hurricane Katrina was the obvious and initiating cause of the damage and homeowners and businesses with hurricane or windstorm coverage should not be denied claims. Wooley, however, defended the denials and told National Public Radio that if insurers are forced to cover their policyholders for all the damage caused by Katrina: "You're going to bankrupt the insurance companies."
FTCR said that Wooley's decision to side with insurers could not be seen as fair or independent in light of the massive campaign contributions from the industry. The group called on Wooley to either return the industry contributions or turn over the $577,000 to the Department of Insurance in order to hire more staff who will be responsible for consumer assistance and insurance company oversight in the wake of Katrina.
"Katrina survivors desperately need an insurance commissioner who is fighting for them and isn't compromised by a half million dollars in insurance industry campaign contributions," said FTCR's Executive Director Douglas Heller. "If Katrina insurers cheat their policyholders and Commissioner Wooley doesn't step in to protect them, they will just have to follow money. Any time a regulator raises money from the industry he is supposed to regulate, the citizens he is supposed to protect will suffer."
The complete list of Commissioner Wooley's insurance industry contributors can be downloaded here and is compiled from filings made with the Louisiana Ethics Administration.
Wooley has faced criticism over ethical issues before. Earlier this year, Louisiana lawmakers introduced legislation to limit the ability of officials to use state money for their automobiles after Wooley spent $40,000 of state money on a special edition luxury truck, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate. Louisiana's Department of Insurance is infamous for corruption: each of the past three Insurance Commissioners have been sent to prison.
Around the nation many elected Insurance Commissioners are either barred from receiving contributions from the industry they regulate as in Georgia or voluntarily refuse contributions from insurance companies as in California and Delaware.
FTCR has placed insurance claims tips for Katrina survivors online.