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The Sacramento Bee reports that the California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, is under fire for accepting campaign contributions from insurance executives and their spouses. He has yet to release his office calendars in response to public requests.

But Lara acknowledged last week that he did meet with a CEO whose company has multiple complaints against it in cases before his department.

Lara said he met with CEO Steven M. Menzies, who heads Applied Underwriters, a workers’ compensation agency that the department formerly settled with for “bait and switch” marketing tactics in 2017. Berkshire Hathaway is in the process of selling the company, a sale Lara must approve.

Lara called the May 6 meeting with Menzies “casual” in a July 25 interview with KQED. But he also said he agreed to a meeting after the executive reached out “to see if staff could meet with him to review the cases before him.” His department said the meeting occurred on May 6.

Lara, who was serving as his own campaign treasurer, accepted $46,500 in contributions to his 2022 reelection campaign in April from out-of-state executives with ties to the company. During his campaign for the post, Lara had pledged not to take political money from insurers.

The meeting and decisions refreshed concerns from the advocacy nonprofit Consumer Watchdog, which has pressed Lara’s office to release calendar records of meetings with executives who donated the money in question.

President Jamie Court said the meeting with Menzies raises questions of potential ex parte communication violations because of Lara’s quasi-judicial role as commissioner. Ex parte communications are illegal under California law, but Department spokesman Michael Soller said Lara did not violate ex parte regulations because the conversation was “not about a specific case.”

Lara has not said whether he personally knows the donors who contributed the total $54,000. Stephen and Carole Acunto each donated $15,500 to Lara. Mr. Acunto has spoken on behalf of Applied Underwriters in the past, but did not respond to requests for comment.

Theresa DeBarbrie also donated $15,500, and is the wife of another company executive with ties to Applied Underwriters. Nearly $8,000 came from Darlene Graber, whose husband is also in the insurance industry.

Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said because Lara’s role “stands somewhere in the middle” between a lawmaker and a judicial official, the meetings and decisions raise “serious red flags.”