WHAT a difference a few years makes. Insurance Commissioner John Doak has gone from saying his agency shouldn’t be responsible for doing most fraud investigations to declaring the agency needs police-level firepower to handle fraud investigations. Both claims are half-baked; each suggests a lack of seriousness about the job of insurance commissioner.
Shortly after taking office in 2011, Doak announced plans to lay off six of nine investigators in his anti-fraud unit. Deputy Insurance Commissioner Randy Brogdon said insurance companies needed to handle most investigations in-house since the majority of cases involved individuals defrauding companies. The only cases the agency would handle, he said, were those where companies allegedly defrauded individuals.
However, at that time the anti-fraud unit was funded by $750 annual assessments on insurance companies. The companies were, in fact, already paying for the investigations. Having state officials conduct them instead of the affected company reduced conflict-of-interest concerns.
That Brogdon made the recommendation to cut staff was notable. He was one of three former state legislators Doak hired who had little or no insurance industry experience. The layoffs were expected to save about $323,000 a year, which many suspected was necessary because Brogdon and the other two lawmakers were being paid nearly $100,000 apiece.
Jump ahead to 2012, and Doak has spent more than $180,000 on everything from high-tech shotguns to seven police-package vehicles for the now seven-member anti-fraud unit. It seems two fraud investigators were shot and killed in Louisiana last year, so Doak argues a mini-police force is now a must.
In 2011, people committing insurance fraud were a minor nuisance who could easily be handled by an insurance company’s internal investigators. Now Doak says they’re desperate, dangerous people who require a near-military response from the state.
Before Doak’s arrival, department investigators didn’t need shotguns or police vehicles. Where Doak’s 2011 downsizing seemed a ludicrously insufficient response to fraud, his latest actions appear expensive overkill.
This is just the latest Doak misstep, which includes announcing in 2011 that he and three lieutenants were moving their offices from Oklahoma City, the base of state government, to Tulsa, where they resided. That was expected to double the rent for the agency’s Tulsa office without public benefit.
Doak’s actions are troubling given Oklahoma’s long history of ethically challenged insurance commissioners. Former Commissioner Carroll Fisher managed to get impeached, indicted and sent to jail. Fisher’s predecessor, John Crawford, was the subject of an FBI investigation before losing election.
The office only regained public respect when Kim Holland was appointed to fill Fisher’s vacancy in January 2005. She was elected to a full term in 2006, but fell short in a 2010 re-election bid.
Doak won not because of his personal appeal to voters, but thanks to those who selected straight-party voting rather than individual candidates. Straight-party ballots gave Republicans candidates an edge of nearly 100,000 votes in 2010 statewide races. Doak won by 91,430 votes.
Doak’s term in office is a reminder that party affiliation matters, but so does personal integrity. Voters should keep both in mind when casting a ballot. So far, his actions appear the product of mismanagement and incompetence rather than corruption, but they are troubling. Increased scrutiny and legislative oversight is more than warranted.