Crossing the line

August 25, 2004

WE'LL SAY this for Maryland's insurance commissioner: He's always finding new ways to get free publicity. Unfortunately, Alfred W. Redmer Jr. tends to draw the kind of attention most people would rather avoid. Witness his recent decision to be a featured speaker at tonight's $125-a-ticket fund-raiser for E. J. Pipkin, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate. Let's count the number of ways that isn't a good idea.

As insurance commissioner, Mr. Redmer's job is to regulate the insurance industry in Maryland. He's not a politician (although he formerly held elected office as a Republican member of the House of Delegates from Baltimore County). He's no longer an insurance industry executive. He's supposed to be the person who looks out for the interests of Maryland consumers making sure insurers are financially sound, rates are appropriate and policies are administered fairly.

What message does it send when the insurance commissioner shows up at a political fund-raiser? It suggests that Mr. Redmer isn't independent. He isn't above the political fray. Indeed, it suggests he is partisan to the core. And you have to wonder, how many insurance industry lobbyists and executives plan to show up and donate money tonight because they think it will curry favor with Mr. Redmer?

Mr. Redmer defends his actions. He says he's not there to sell tickets, just to chat. Oh, please. He's selling tickets by having his name on the program. The commissioner is a headliner. He may not be on the sidewalk hawking tickets, but he's selling them just the same. You can bet that Mr. Pipkin's campaign thought to invite the insurance industry.

What's most troubling about the incident is that Mr. Redmer has shown such lapses in ethical judgment before. Last year, Mr. Redmer was scheduled to be the featured speaker at a $2,000-a-head fund-raiser for Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. But issues of propriety were raised, and the event was ultimately canceled.

It's no secret that Mr. Redmer is a lot cozier with the insurance industry than was his predecessor, Steven B. Larsen. Mr. Larsen was a hard-nosed regulator who stared down CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield's for-profit conversion plans and denied its executives a multimillion-dollar payday.

It's hard to imagine Mr. Redmer taking such a courageous stand on behalf of consumers. And it's even harder to imagine when he squanders his credibility on partisan politics.

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