OUR OPINION: Insurance Commissioner turf battle

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

Since 2007 Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon has defied Legislative Auditor Steve Theriot and refused to allow access to thousands of documents Theriot says are needed to certify the state’s annual financial report.

Theriot says unreleased documents contain transactions that have to be reviewed in order for auditors to complete their work.

Donelon counters that he has withheld the records because they contain insurance company proprietary information, or they contain emails and documents that deal with employee personnel issues or health records.

The matter has come to a head and Theriot told a Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget Friday the unreleased documents may end up costing Louisiana in terms of higher interest notes when its sets out to sell bonds and borrow money.

According to Theriot, auditors have completed their state audit, but must issue a qualified report because they could not review Donelon’s withheld documents. A qualified audit typically perks up a lender’s suspicions regarding a borrower, resulting in high loan costs.

Frankly, we never knew Mr. Donelon was such a bear of a fighter that he would take on the state auditor.

We suspect most voters cast a ballot for him in hopes that he would stand up to the insurance companies that have milked state residents with unfairly high deductibles brought on by the hurricanes, and slow or non-payments for others who lost homes or businesses to the storms.

We think voters also hoped Mr. Donelon might try to clean up the notoriously sullied reputation of the state insurance department.

We doubt Mr. Donelon received more than a handful of votes from people who wanted him to fight with the state auditor in this age of ethics reform.

We suspect most voters are more than happy to have a feisty auditor like Mr. Theriot on the side of good government, ready to take on a territorial department head like Mr. Donelon who should be out doing the jobs he was elected to do rather than lording over questionably confidential records.

We don’t recall Mr. Donelon filing many lawsuits on behalf of Louisiana residents against insurance companies, but he has filed one against Theriot and other state officials who have reminded him that he could lose his state appropriations for not complying with the law.

Not only does the lawsuit cost taxpayers money at a time when everyone is making budget cuts, the whole Donelon audit feud has, at least to some degree, taken him away from the job voters elected him to perform.

A few thousand dollars here, and a few percentage points lost when selling bonds and borrowing money and first thing you know the state is out more than just chump change. For what? A turf battle?

We would like to see Mr. Donelon drop this audit avoidance dance, turn over the requested records and see if he can distinguish himself during the remainder of his watch for something voters care about.