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Drinks, dinners, junkets and jobs: How the insurance industry courts state commissioners

Entrants: Michael J. Mishak and Ben Wieder

Affiliation: The Center for Public Integrity

Business

Year: 2016

Place: Second Place

571303_CPI_StateInsuranceCommissioners_AHCJEntry.pdf (0.7 MB)

Provide names of other journalists involved.

Michael J. Mishak was the primary reporter. Data reporter Ben Wieder contributed.

List date(s) this work was published or aired.

Oct. 2, 2016: Drinks, dinners, junkets and jobs: How the insurance industry courts state commissioners The Center for Public Integrity, full version: https://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/10/02/20020/drinks-dinners-junkets-and-jobs-how-insurance-industry-courts-state-commissioners An abridged version also ran on the front page of The Washington Post, and in the Hartford Courant and St. Louis Post-Dispatch the next day: https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/drinks-junkets-and-jobs-how-the-insurance-industry-courts-state-commissioners/2016/10/02/1069e7a0-6add-11e6-99bf-f0cf3a6449a6_story.html?utm_term=.8cfb407b85e4 http://www.courant.com/business/hc-insurance-courts-commissioners-20161003-story.html http://www.stltoday.com/business/local/drinks-junkets-and-jobs-how-the-insurance-industry-courts-state/article_8204ba46-8f41-5571-acf1-36bd93f8eead.html Oct. 20, 2016: Insurers give big to races determining their regulators The Center for Public Integrity: https://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/10/20/20356/insurers-give-big-races-determining-their-regulators TIME also ran a version of this piece that day: http://time.com/4537638/campaign-finance-insurance-industry/

Provide a brief synopsis of the story or stories, including any significant findings.

This Center for Public Integrity investigation uncovered the close ties between the nation's insurance commissioners and the industry they regulate. The lead story illustrated their cozy relationships, revolving doors and shady financial connections around the nation. The follow-up piece highlighted the millions of dollars in political giving that insurers made to sway 2016 races that determine who regulates the nation's insurance companies. The stories found:

-Half of the 109 state insurance commissioners who have left their posts in the last decade have gone on to work for the insurance industry -- many leaving before their terms expire. Just two moved into consumer advocacy.

-Of the 50 sitting commissioners, 24 came directly from the insurance industry or had worked for an insurer.

-At a recent conference of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, the Center for Public Integrity identified 21 former commissioners from 18 states and the District of Columbia representing insurance interests, each wearing special NAIC badges advertising their status as ex-officials.

-Emails from 13 states show friendly -- and often personal -- relationships between regulators and insurers, accented by dinner invitations, family news and friendly sports wagers.

-At least four sitting commissioners had direct financial ties to the industry, with New Jersey's top regulator selling his insurance stocks only after an inquiry from the Center for Public Integrity.

-The insurance industry pumped more than $6 million into political efforts aimed at a dozen 2016 elections: five races for insurance commissioner and seven gubernatorial races in states where governors have the power to appoint their state's insurance regulator.

The project also included a digital library with the most recent financial disclosures for 41 insurance commissioners from around the country -- a first-of-its-kind public resource. The initial story also included metrics for each state on the staffing and funding of their insurance oversight departments.

Explain types of documents, data or Internet resources used. Were FOI or public records act requests required? How did this affect the work?

Michael Mishak reviewed scores of lobbyist reports, regulator financial disclosures, court documents, campaign finance records and more than 3,700 pages of emails obtained through open records laws in 13 states. Those records helped document the extent of the revolving door. The emails brought to life the personal relationships that insurers cultivate with the officials who regulate them.

Explain types of human sources used.

Mishak interviewed dozens of experts, insurance commissioners, consumer advocates, insurers and trade group representatives in the insurance world.

Results:

New Jersey's insurance commissioner sold his entire stock portfolio after the Center for Public Integrity asked why he owned stock in companies he regulated, a violation of the state's ethics code. The Des Moines Register wrote an editorial calling on the Iowa Legislature to tighten conflict of interest laws there in response to the story about the cozy relationships between insurance commissioners and the industry they regulate.

Follow-up (if any). Have you run a correction or clarification on the report or has anyone come forward to challenge its accuracy? If so, please explain.

Neither of the stories required corrections or clarifications.

Advice to other journalists planning a similar story or project.

File your public records requests early as it takes time for them to come back and to read them all. And challenge FOIA officers when they deny requests or charge onerous fees.