Insurance chief faces broader investigation

Published April 26, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - As Gov. Charlie Crist continues to support the state's insurance commissioner, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is pushing to broaden an investigation being conducted by her office.

Commissioner Kevin McCarty has been under investigation since one of his employees acknowledged using a state computer to compose a campaign invitation for his wife's political campaign. That employee has since resigned.

Also, McCarty acknowledged he had solicited contributions for that political campaign from a few people in the insurance industry, which he regulates. He made calls on a cell phone borrowed from an insurance lobbyist. He has since apologized for his involvement in the political campaign.

Sink told the St. Petersburg Times that while the original investigation focused on the use of public resources at the Office of Insurance Regulation for political purposes, more questions have arisen.

"There are other questions to be answered here about the culture of OIR," she said. She declined to specify anything more, because of the ongoing investigation.

Crist said Wednesday that he supports the investigation but said that he has some concern about its focus.

"The commissioner is a man of integrity and a man of honor, and I'm concerned that some of this may be motivated by the insurance industry, so I think we need to be smart in how we look into it," Crist said.

Three weeks ago, McCarty gave the governor and Cabinet a new, rewritten code of ethics for the Office of Insurance Regulation. McCarty wrote that he was meeting the governor's challenge to all agencies to strengthen their ethics code.

The new ethics code has a section that asks employees to avoid conflicts of interest. It also prohibits gifts from lobbyists or regulated entities, defining a gift as anything of value, including the use of "tangible property." The gift ban is based on an understanding that the recipient's judgment may be influenced by such a gift.

Sink said the new code of ethics is very appropriate; "I just wish they had followed it."

The code also says that employees may express their opinions on political candidates and actively participate in political campaigns.

Agency chief of staff Dave Foy declined to comment or speculate about whether McCarty broke the ethics code until the investigation is complete.