Paper: Insurers Big Contributors to Fla. Legislative Candidates

August 10, 2006

Campaign finance advocates said it is no surprise that state lawmakers this year passed a wide-ranging bill that property insurance companies like, considering how much money insurers donate to legislative candidates.

The help for property insurers follows a decade in which the industry gave $11.2 million to Florida candidates and state political parties, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Tuesday. Campaigns this year have received at least another $1.7 million from the industry, state records cited by the paper show.

Roughly $3 of every $4 given by the insurance industry have gone to Republicans over the past decade, the party overwhelmingly in charge of the Legislature for most of that time, the newspaper reported.

The industry isn’t close to being the largest giver to Florida campaigns, its $11.2 million was only about 2 percent of the total of more than $557 million in campaign contributions over the last decade. That shows that it doesn’t get any special consideration for its donations, industry officials said.

Insurance companies also were “frozen out” of the negotiations over what the Legislature ultimately did this year when it tried to address Florida’s crisis in insurance affordability and availability, said Sam Miller, spokesman for the Florida Insurance Council.

“We didn’t know what was in the bill, we didn’t have any input into what was in the bill,” Miller said.

Still, insurance companies were happy with many of the elements of the bill. The most important elements in the industry’s view were the creation of a program to encourage the strengthening of houses to avoid storm damage, a program to provide $250 million in loans for some companies that will write policies here and a provision that makes it easier for some companies to tap into the state’s catastrophe fund.

“It’s always hard to say that the money bought something specifically, but the money certainly buys the industry access to decision-makers,” Sue O’Connell, research director for the nonpartisan Institute on Money and State Politics, told the Sun-Sentinel.

Most lawmakers repeatedly answer questions about campaign contributors by saying their votes aren’t bought with donations and legislators frequently don’t know exactly who all their contributors are or what they might want.

Miller said donations are given because candidates “ask for them” and because it may help ensure that insurance companies get to give their point of view.

But he noted that many groups are known for giving lots of money but not always getting good results. Trial lawyers are huge contributors, but haven’t managed to block many lawsuit reforms they’ve disliked, some observers note.

Candidates for governor also draw support from the industry, with Republican Tom Gallagher, who is also the state’s chief financial officer, leading the way. He has received more than $375,000 from the industry in his race for the governorship.

His campaign spokesman Alberto Martinez said it doesn’t preclude a politician like Gallagher from taking on the companies when warranted.

“He’s called State Farm and Allstate out on the carpet whenever they’ve tried raising rates and not responding to their customer’s needs,” Martinez said.

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