Republicans Challenge Insurance Commissioner Over Open Records Law
Senate Republicans say Insurance Commissioner Katharine Wade misled them about seeking guidance from the Office of State Ethics and they want the Freedom of Information Commission to penalize her for failing to turn over hundreds of documents related to their FOI request.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, and Sens. Michael McLachlan and Kevin Kelly sent a June 24 FOI request to the Insurance Department and the Office of State Ethics asking for communications between the two agencies. In complying with the request, the Office of State Ethics handed over nearly 500 pages of emails, while the Insurance Department handed over a total of nine pages, six of which were Wade’s September 2015 letter stating why she didn’t feel it was necessary to recuse herself from overseeing the Anthem-Cigna merger.
Wade is a former Cigna employee and her husband still works for the company, which has prompted both Democratic and Republican lawmakers to call for her recusal on what’s being described as the largest health insurance merger in history. Wade has not budged from her position that she’s fit to oversee the merger.
Responding to a petition filed by Common Cause, the Office of State Ethics agreed on June 16 to issue a ruling on the matter and is currently accepting public comment.
Senate Republicans said the responses they received from the two agencies following their June 24 FOI request were “incredibly disparate,” according to a letter they wrote Friday to the Freedom of Information Commission.
The Office of State Ethics handed over 494 pages of emails and the Insurance Department handed over nine — three pages of emails and Wade’s six-page letter to the Office of State Ethics.
“Included among the documents provided by OSE were numerous emails from Commissioner Wade’s private account inquiring about the impact of her involvement as well as the issue of Cigna stock held by her husband,” Fasano wrote to the FOI Commission. “By utilizing an administrative habit of evading FOI laws through the use of private emails in conducting public business, Wade has knowingly and willfully violated the FOIA by failing to turn over public records upon request.”
Donna Tommelleo, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Department, said, “The department responds to all FOI requests promptly, professionally and with the guidance of legal counsel.”
Republicans said they are “outraged at the Department of Insurance and their attempt to keep the public in the dark regarding a high-profile merger that reeks with conflicts.”
Republicans are asking the FOI Commission to penalize Wade.
“We believe this refusal is without reasonable grounds and must be viewed as a bad faith attempt to keep secret the Commissioner’s potential conflicts, we ask that the Commission set an example and take the rare action of imposing civil penalties against Commissioner Wade and her Department,” Fasano wrote.
The FOI appeal could take several months to reach a resolution. Meanwhile, the public comment period on Wade’s potential conflict of interest overseeing the merger will end this week at 5 p.m. on July 20.
The Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board will decide on Thursday, July 21 when a decision will be issued on the petition filed in June by Common Cause.