Oklahoma State Senator Criticizes Spending at Insurance Department

January 17, 2013

An Oklahoma state senator has announced his intention to file legislation to curb what he calls unnecessary expenditures at the state insurance department, as well as other state agencies.

In announcement released by the Oklahoma Senate, Sen. Harry Coates said his bill is spurred in part by Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak’s frequent use of state aircraft.

Aside from Gov. Mary Fallin, Doak has used the state plane more frequently than any other state official, the Associated Press has reported. The only other statewide elected official to use the plane has been the lieutenant governor.

Coates bill will prohibit any statewide officials besides the governor and lieutenant governor from chartering state aircraft.

Doak has used the aircraft to travel around Oklahoma to survey storm damage, as well as attend speaking engagements and various meetings with citizens, insurance agents and community leaders, Coates acknowledged. However, he asserted, the former insurance commissioner never used the plane for such purposes. Coates, a Republican from Seminole, believes Doak is using state resources for self-promotion.

Doak, who has been in office two years, said his use of state-owned aircraft is infrequent, the AP reported. He said he only uses the plane when it is available and when he travels to multiple counties. Doak used state-owned aircraft in April to view damage caused by a tornado and didn’t travel with Gov. Fallin because they were not on the same schedule.

The insurance department was appropriated just under $1.9 million in FY’12 and FY’13, according to Coates’ announcement. The rest of the agency’s budget consists of monies paid by citizens and companies for various types of fees. Coates believes Doak is wasting taxpayers’ money to promote himself rather than actually help Oklahomans.

Coates also has been critical of insurance department expenditures on shotguns, body armor and police cars for his anti-fraud unit, which added up to around $180,000, according to the AP. Defending the purchases, Doak cited a 2010 case in Louisiana in which two fraud investigators were shot and killed during what should have been a routine trip to collect records from a suspended insurance agent who later shot himself.

Coates also pointed out that 2012 financial records from four PCards show the insurance department spent $150,000 on out-of-state travel and hotel accommodations; $15,000 on special-ops uniforms for the department’s seven anti-fraud investigators; $7,500 on lapel pins; and $300 on ITunes among various other expenditures.

The senator’s bill would also prohibit elected officials from being in Public Service Announcements or using their image or voice for such productions.

“I have nothing against state agencies using PSA’s – they are educational and serve an important purpose – but it’s not necessary for elected officials to be seen or heard in those commercials,” said Coates. “Having elected officials in PSAs is basically free campaigning for those individuals, which gives them an unfair advantage over future opponents. It’s not right and it needs to stop.”

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