Earlier this week, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara apologized for accepting campaign contributions from donors that had connections to the insurance industry. Lara was also scheduling meetings with these donors and he claimed that he would stop all political fundraising until the end of the year while he works to put an end to this conflict of interest. Since July of this year, the San Diego Union-Tribune has published numerous investigative reports detailing Lara’s campaign contributions from insurers after he promised not to accept such industry-connected donations. Since the Union-Tribune began its inquiry, Lara’s campaign for reelection in 2020 has refunded about $83,000 of these contributions. Lara stated the following in a letter Tuesday to leaders of three consumer advocacy groups,
Even though no laws or rules were broken – and these interactions did not affect or influence my official actions in any way – I must hold myself to a higher standard. I can and will do better. These failures are not consistent with my personal values nor my long career in public service.
In the letter, Lara also wrote that he would terminate his contract with the fundraising personnel responsible for scheduling meetings and soliciting campaign contributions from the donors that had connections to the insurance industry. Lara has been criticized for decisions that favored some of the industry connected donors that contributed to his political campaign. Lara returned campaign donations, among other donations, from insurance executives and others tied to Applied Underwriters, which is a Nebraska workers’ compensation firm that is facing several complaints from California employers who bought troubled policies. The Union-Tribune found out that Lara’s office had intervened in several cases against Applied Underwriters to benefit the insurer before he announced he would excuse himself from further decisions related to the donors.
In Lara’s letter, which can be read here, he lays out reforms his campaign will adopt, “effective immediately.” These reforms include implementing rigorous vetting protocols and retaining experts so that they can develop new processes for screening and reporting all outside political activity. The letter also states that he is requesting that the department attorneys develop new publicly-available protocols for scheduling and conducting meetings with department-regulated entities and ordering regular public release of Lara’s official calendar of meetings with external stakeholders. Lara also claims in the letter that he was “deeply sorry” for the failures and that he takes full responsibility for them. We will have to wait and see if Lara’s issues are over or if the Union-Tribune will continue to find more issues.