Former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez has taken a lucrative seat on the board of directors for a workers’ compensation insurer after helping broker a 2004 deal that benefited the industry.
The Los Angeles Democrat was termed out of the Assembly on Sunday, and on Monday, Zenith National Insurance Corp. appointed him to its board.
Company filings say that directors are paid $90,000 per year, with an additional $40,000 paid for every committee on which they serve. Núñez said he did not know if his post was paid.
"You have to ask Zenith," he said. Zenith did not return calls for comment.
But, Núñez added, "If board members get compensated, then I would be compensated, as well."
Doug Heller, executive director of Consumer Watchdog, a group that tracks the insurance industry, criticized the deal.
"This is the revolving door working at its worst," he said.
With Núñez at the helm of the Assembly in 2004, the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger overhauled California’s workers’ compensation system.
The overhaul is widely credited with improving the state’s business climate – though injured workers say it came at their expense.
Heller called the legislation "a complete giveaway to the insurance industry."
Zenith, in its 2007 annual report, credits the legislation for, "workers’ compensation profitability during the past few years (that) has been substantially above average."
Núñez bristled at the suggestion that his work on the legislation led to his new board post.
"To say that because we reformed workers’ comp that I was offered to sit on a corporate board. That somehow I benefited this company therefore I’m gonna sit on their board – that’s a pretty damned big leap, man," Núñez said.
Núñez, 41, said his appointment was the story of how a "young retired former speaker gets an opportunity to be on a corporate board and to serve with some pretty prestigious people," including Leon Panetta, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton.
Núñez has had close ties to Zenith – and its CEO Stanley Zax – since his speakership began. Zenith donated $200,000 to Núñez’s ballot measure committee in 2005 and 2006. The company also contributed $150,000 to a ballot measure pushed by Núñez that would have extended his and other lawmakers’ terms in office.
"I’m in the private sector now," he said, "so I make no apologies for being on this board or any other board that might reach out to me and ask me to be a part of it."
Contact the author, Shane Goldmacher, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5544 or [email protected].