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Company's leaders to aid Logan effort

It could hurt Bill Nelson, who has been at odds with the company.

By LUCY MORGAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 25, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Four months ago, Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson was accusing their company of improprieties.

Today, top managers at Bankers Insurance Group of St. Petersburg are raising money to help one of Nelson's opponents in the U.S. Senate race.

Bankers' officials are sponsoring a campaign fundraiser today for state Rep. Willie Logan, a long-shot independent candidate from Miami who is opposing Democrat Nelson and Republican Bill McCollum.

"I think Bankers has a track record of doing whatever they can do to try and defeat Bill Nelson," said Nelson campaign spokesman Dan McLaughlin.

By raising money for Logan, whose campaign has failed to get off the ground, Bankers executives could be aiming at Nelson, rather than McCollum.

Logan's support, however small, is expected to come primarily from African-Americans and other voters who would be expected to vote for a Democrat over a Republican if Logan were not on the ballot.

In a close contest between Nelson and McCollum, Democrats fear, those voters who backed Logan could cost Nelson the election.

Bankers officials say they're not trying to hurt Nelson and would even raise money for him if he asked.

Invitations note a maximum $2,000 contribution can be made by those attending the reception at Bankers Financial Center's boardroom in St. Petersburg. But company spokesman Robert Ulrich said they don't suggest a minimum donation to attend.

A spokeswoman for Bankers said that because of a federal law that prohibits corporate donations, the reception is not being given by the company but by its managers, board chairman Robert Menke and president Robert G. Meehan.

Bankers is fighting Nelson to retain its license to do business in Florida in the wake of an investigation that Bankers pursued into the personal life of a state employee.

Calling the company's conduct "egregious," Nelson formally charged Bankers Insurance Co. in March with attempting to subvert, manipulate and undermine insurance regulators when it hired the private investigator.

In late June, Bankers agreed to pay $2.55-million to Kevin McCarty, a Nelson employee whose telephone was illegally tapped by private investigators hired by Bankers.

McCarty filed a civil suit against Bankers after a criminal investigation disclosed that Bankers was digging into his personal life in an attempt to get him fired.

The insurance company's top executives blamed McCarty for hostile relations with state regulators.

McCarty is the insurance department's deputy director of insurer services but previously supervised the state's Joint Underwriting Association.

A spokesman for Logan said the candidate met Menke last year and received an offer of campaign help.

"He liked Willie," noted Logan campaign manager Sean Pittman. "Whether or not he has some feelings about Nelson, I don't know. Most people help someone else because they don't particularly care for the other person."

Since announcing his candidacy last year, Logan has encountered a lot of unfavorable publicity, especially in South Florida. That includes accusations of questionable financial dealings. He borrowed $63,000 from a government-funded agency he heads to pay personal debts and failed to pay rent on a district office he leased from that same agency, although he claimed reimbursement from the state for the 20 missed payments. He has since taken out a personal loan to repay the $63,000.

Ulrich said the company plans to do another fundraiser for Bill McCollum, now a U.S. representative, and would have one for Nelson if he asked.

"This is outside of those other considerations," Ulrich said. "The company has been involved in the political process and feels these are instructive and bring in the views of the candidate."

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