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Archive for Saturday, May 4, 2002

Insurance commissioner candidate resigns after campaign disclosure

May 4, 2002

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— A Kansas Insurance Department official who is running for state insurance commissioner resigned Friday following the disclosure that he sought campaign donations from companies he regulated.

John J. McCarvel, 60, worked for three years as the department's admissions coordinator, reviewing the finances of companies seeking approval to sell insurance in Kansas.

McCarvel prominently mentioned his state job in a solicitation letter dated April 8 to the president of TIAA-CREF Life Insurance Co. of New York. The letter, made public Friday, notes that "it takes a sizable treasury to run a statewide campaign."

McCarvel filed as a Republican candidate for insurance commissioner on Feb. 28.

Incumbent Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor said she was "incredibly surprised" she learned of the letter Thursday. She has requested an investigation by the Governmental Ethics Commission.

"I'm grateful for Rep. Bob Tomlinson, who turned it over to me. I appreciate it tremendously," Sebelius said.

Violating state law

Tomlinson, R-Roeland Park, is chairman of the House Insurance Committee and had himself briefly considered running for insurance commissioner. The letter from McCarvel was sent to Bertram L. Scott at TIAA-CREF.

Under the heading "John McCarvel for Kansas Insurance Commissioner," the letter states, "In my current capacity as Admissions Coordinator for the State of Kansas Insurance Department, I have recently worked with members of your staff to secure your Certificate of Authority to transact the business of insurance in our state. ...

"I have enjoyed my efforts in helping you and your company ... and now I ask for your help," the letter states.

Telephone messages left on an answering machine at McCarvel's Topeka home were not immediately returned Friday.

It was not known Friday whether any company approached by McCarvel made a campaign contribution, nor whether any state equipment or resources were used on behalf of his campaign.

Sebelius said she had a top staffer ask McCarvel to provide a list of recipients of his letter. He provided a list, then resigned, she said.

The commissioner said the list contains "less than a dozen" names so far.

Under Kansas law, candidates for state office cannot solicit or accept contributions from corporations and political action committees during the legislative session. Violations carry a fine of $5,000.

Carol Williams, executive director of the ethics commission, declined to say whether the commission was investigating McCarvel's letters.

Williams said candidates sometimes receive checks during the legislative session and notify the ethics commission. The money must be returned to the company or political action committee, and candidates often send a letter citing the law.

Sebelius said she intended to notify any companies McCarvel contacted to make clear that any letters he sent were not official department policy and that any donations to him would not affect their standing with the department.

Sebelius said she made it a practice in her eight years as insurance commissioner to neither take nor solicit campaign contributions from companies regulated by the department.

Other announced Republican candidates for insurance commissioner in the Aug. 6 primary are Sen. Sandy Praeger of Lawrence and Bryan Riley of Wichita, the party's 1998 nominee. No Democrats have announced for the race.

Tomlinson said he chose to inform Sebelius about the letter rather than embarrass her and her gubernatorial campaign.

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