Republican insurance commissioner candidate Bryan Riley on Thursday called on his opponent, Sen. Sandy Praeger of Lawrence, to return $1,450 in campaign contributions from executives and lobbyists of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas and Anthem Insurance Cos.
Praeger refused, and her campaign accused Riley of negative campaigning.
Anthem is trying to buy Blue Cross of Kansas. The merger was blocked by State Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius, who said it would result in increased rates for Kansas policyholders.
Sebelius' ruling was rejected by a state district judge, and now the case is on appeal before the Kansas Supreme Court. Sebelius is running for governor, and it is possible that the next insurance commissioner will have to deal with the proposed merger.
"With the merger still being litigated, it is highly inappropriate for a candidate for insurance commissioner to accept donations from the companies that are pushing for the merger," Riley said.
Praeger has received donations from Blue Cross of Kansas chief executive John Knack, executive vice president Michael Mattox, and director of legislative and regulatory relations Frederick Palenske.
She also has received funds from lobbyists Brad Smoot, Bud Burke and Ron and Julie Hein. Smoot lobbies for Blue Cross of Kansas, and Burke, a former Senate president, and the Heins lobby for Anthem.
John Shoemaker, a campaign assistant to Praeger, said the contributions from the Blue Cross of Kansas executives were individual contributions unrelated to their jobs. Praeger has said she will not accept corporate contributions from Blue Cross of Kansas and Anthem while the case is litigated.
Shoemaker said the donations from lobbyists had nothing to do with the issue because Smoot, Burke and the Heins lobby for numerous interests. He said Smoot was a personal friend of Praeger's.
Riley has increased his criticism of Praeger's campaign contributions from insurance companies that she will regulate if elected.
Praeger has raised far more money than Riley, with much of that money coming from insurance companies, doctors and other health providers. In the past seven months, Praeger raised $127,963 to Riley's $14,710. David Powell, an El Dorado insurance company owner, is also in the Aug. 6 GOP primary race.