Montana Commissioner’s Letter To Trial Lawyers Raises Industry Ire
A letter from Montana Commissioner John Morrison to the insurance segment of the American Trial Lawyers Association soliciting funds to expunge campaign debt has insurers protesting what they say is a conflict of interest.
Additionally, a consumer advocate is saying that a point in the letter about the close ties state insurance commissioners have historically had with the industry should move the National Association of Insurance Commissioners to take action to ensure that conflicts of interest are avoided.
Insurers are already talking to insurance commissioners about their concerns over the letter and say they will raise the issue at the winter meeting this week.
The Oct. 2, 2001 letter from Morrison asks for help in erasing debt so that “I can get on with my fight to protect consumers–all across the country.”
Morrison notes in the letter that “historically, many insurance commissioners and the NAIC have had close ties with the industry.” He also notes that “Today, I am the only consumer trial lawyer among the 50 plus commissioners.”
Morrison outlines regulatory consumer initiatives that he is working on at the NAIC. Those initiatives include the creation of a consumer protection working group that Morrison chairs.
Additionally, Morrison notes an NAIC complaint database system that is scheduled to become operational on December 1. The database shows the number of complaints against each insurer, classified by type, and information about the insurer. In a later phase of the initiative, Morrison writes, an attempt will be made to make individual complaints available.
In an interview with National Underwriter, Morrison says the letter does not present a conflict of interest because “I do not regulate trial lawyers.”
To date, he says the amount of money raised by the letter–sent to the several hundred national members of the insurance segment of the ATLA–has been under $2,000. Morrison says his campaign debt stands at about $35,000.
The reason he approached lawyers nationally, according to Morrison, is that there is a $400 contribution limit per person in Montana and given the small amount, it was necessary to raise money outside the state.
When asked if he would return the contributions, he said “absolutely not.” He noted fundraisers thrown by the insurance industry for commissioners both at and outside NAIC quarterly meetings.
Morrison says it is “important for insurance commissioners to make sure that they are not overly influenced by the industry.” However, he also noted that commissioners also need to listen to the industry.
He said the overwhelming majority of attendees at NAIC quarterly meetings are industry people compared with a handful of consumer advocates.
During his tenure as insurance commissioner, which started with his election in November 2000, Morrison says he has “not seen anything at the NAIC in which any commissioner was unduly influenced by a particular interest. I have not seen anything to suggest that anyone is beholden to anyone else.”