Monday, October 3, 2022
Home CALIFORNIA Californians deserve better than Ricardo Lara and Robert Howell for insurance commissioner

Californians deserve better than Ricardo Lara and Robert Howell for insurance commissioner

Our editorial board interviews candidates for public office with the goal of helping voters gain the greatest possible understanding of the offices, the issues and the options before them.

On rare occasions, it is important to communicate that the system has failed to produce an acceptable candidate for an office. We regret to say that this November, we cannot recommend a candidate for the office of insurance commissioner.

Insurance commissioner has been an elected office since voters passed Proposition 103, “The Insurance Rate Reduction and Reform Act of 1988.” Placed on the ballot as an initiative backed by consumer groups, Prop. 103 enacted various reforms, including making the office of insurance commissioner an elective position. The insurance industry spent lavishly to defeat Proposition 103, but voters narrowly approved it, 51% to 48%.

Of course, that was not the end of the insurance industry’s efforts to shape the regulations that control the California insurance market. Companies were free to lobby and also to make campaign contributions, an obvious avenue for influence over an elected official.

When in 2018 Ricardo Lara became the eighth elected insurance commissioner since 1988, he pledged that he would not accept campaign contributions from the industry he would be regulating. However, in 2019, individuals connected with workers’ compensation insurer Applied Underwriters and another company donated more than $53,000 to Lara’s re-election campaign fund. The president of Applied Underwriters asked Lara to intervene in department proceedings involving the company, and on four occasions, Lara overrode Administrative Law Judge orders.

The story became public and Lara apologized, pledging “transparency.” But then when Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit advocacy group, filed requests for communications and meeting records under the California Public Records Act, Lara’s “transparency” turned cloudy and Consumer Watchdog had to file a lawsuit to get the records. It went to trial in early September.

In January, Consumer Watchdog announced in a press release that evidence developed in the lawsuit showed that, “despite attempting to conceal it, Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara and top lieutenant Bryant Henley communicated with two former lawmakers representing a workers’ compensation insurer at the heart of a pay-to-play scandal.”

Consumer Watchdog has also raised concerns about a new regulation that Lara recently submitted to the Office of Administrative Law for final approval. It requires companies to provide fire insurance premium discounts for property owners who take measures to mitigate the risk of wildfire losses on their property, but the regulation troublingly allows insurers to simply refuse to write the policy at all.



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