California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara met with executives from Applied Underwriters two months earlier than previously reported, according to the Sacramento Bee.
The commissioner in March had lunch with executives from Applied and the chief executive of the company that is trying to buy Applied. The meeting was arranged by Lara’s former fundraising consultant. And the Bee reports that Lara “was told in writing that the meeting would benefit his re-election campaign.”
Newspapers throughout the state reported that Lara met with Applied executives in May, a month before others associated with the company contributed $46,000 to the commissioner’s re-election campaign.
But the Sacramento Bee reports that documents it received through a public records request show an earlier meeting between Lara and people affiliated with Applied. The March 12 meeting at Camden Spit & Larder in Sacramento was just a couple of weeks after Berkshire announced it was selling Applied.
It’s since been disclosed that United Insurance Co. is the buyer. Lara has the authority to approve the sale.
Dan Weitzman, a fundraising consultant Lara fired July 28 and controller for the California Democratic Party, arranged the meeting. Steve Menzies, CEO of Applied Underwriters; Jeff Silver, Applied’s general counsel; Jamie Sahara, CEO of United Insurance Co.; and Eric Serna, a New Mexico attorney and former regulator, were all at the meeting.
Silver declined to comment, and Weitzman did not return calls, the Bee reports.
Weitzman reportedly wrote a memo describing the meeting as relationship building for the commissioner’s re-election campaign. He wrote that the executives “will be joining you for a relationship-building lunch in support of your Ricardo Lara for Insurance Commissioner 2022 campaign,” according to the Bee.
Serna, former superintendent of insurance for New Mexico who retired in 2006 amid pay-for-play allegations, told the newspaper that the lunch was social and “no business was discussed.”
The Bee reports that Serna was copied on emails to officials at the Department of Insurance “regarding a company under the Berkshire Hathaway umbrella.”
Serna retired from his regulatory position in 2006 amid allegations that he rewarded companies that donated to a nonprofit health fund he started. He reportedly waived fines against carriers that gave to the health fund. And a bank that contributed $129,000 to the fund subsequently received a contract to act as the depository for securities posted by carriers, the Albuquerque Journal reported at the time.
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