in Houston, Texas
State Rep. Larry Taylor earned commissions from TWIA insurance group he oversees: KHOU; did robocall promoting story violate state law? (Updated)
Wednesday, Feb 09, 2011, 03:32PM CST
By Steve Miller
money

report by Houston CBS affiliate KHOU says Houston-area state Rep. Larry Taylor has pulled in hundreds of thousands of dollars in commissions for insurance sales through the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association while co-chairing a legislative panel charged with oversight of the association.


The KHOU story reports that Taylor and other insurance agents receive a 16 percent commission on policies sold for TWIA, “the highest sales commission paid by any wind pool in the nation," and that Taylor pulled in $300,000 in the fee over four years. 


KHOU reports that Taylor supported a 2007 bill that would have dropped that rate to 10 percent. The bill passed in the House and died in the Senate.

 

The story also raises the long-discussed issue of conflicts of interest between state legislators' work at the Capitol and their vocations, which is always present in Austin, especially when special interests and political battles are involved.


A 25-second automated phone call from an unknown source was distributed Tuesday evening in advance of the news report, inviting listeners to the 10 p.m. newscast.

 

Announced as a “Gulf Coast news alert,” a female voice-over tells the listener that “a local politician has been caught abusing his office, using his position at the Capital to make big bucks. Tune in to KHOU Channel 11 tonight at 10 p.m. and find out how state Representative Larry Taylor is profiting at your expense.”

 

Taylor’s camp says it has evidence that the call came from Democratic mega-donor and Houston lawyer Steve Mostyn's Back To Basics PAC. Taylor spokesman Matt Welch said Taylor will file a complaint with the state Public Utilities Commission of Texas alleging the call violated Chapter 55 of the Utilities Code, which requires autodial messages to contain the name of the person calling and a phone number where that person can be reached.

 

KHOU reports:

"KHOU-TV had no connection whatsoever to those calls which appeared to come from a Democratic political action committee. ... Mostyn has told KHOU that he had no foreknowledge of the calls and wasn’t aware of them until our call for an ‘on-the-record’ comment."

Texas Watchdog left a message for Mostyn, requesting comment, and will update this post if we hear back from him.

 

Mostyn and Taylor have been at odds since last year, when Taylor filed an open records request to TWIA for information regarding a $189 million settlement last year between plaintiffs and TWIA on a number of cases related to Hurricane Ike.

 

Taylor, who has received political contributions from advocacy groups like Texans for Lawsuit Reform, said he was seeking the information in his role as co-chair of the legislative committee overseeing TWIA. During his tussle regarding the TWIA records, Taylor received three contributions totaling more than $28,000 from the lawsuit reform group.

 

Mostyn, a plaintiff lawyer who trolls for clients via television commercials, filed suit to protect the information, claiming that Taylor was targeting him for his political activity.The state Attorney General's office compelled the release of the info in a ruling in November. An assessment of the records, which showed TWIA spent close to $39 million on defense lawyersis here.

 

UPDATED: Taylor has released a video response to the KHOU piece:

 

Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.


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Photo of money by flickr user yomanimus, used via a Creative Commons license.

Comments
Sam
Wednesday, 02/09/2011 - 03:59PM

As a Licensed Agent, if Mr. Taylor is certainly entitled to 'earn' his commisions as I or any other would expect. You made reference that he was paid 16% commission -highest comm rate in any state pool - is this a crime? He didn't set the comm. rate - I earn commissions of 20 % on non-TWIA Policies as do all other appointed agents within their respective agency agreements. So to make it out as though this gentleman is in some sort of conflict of interest is on it's face false and misleading. I don't know the man and have no affiliation with him whatsoever.

Jason
Wednesday, 02/09/2011 - 07:55PM

This is an obvious smear tactic, by an inferior opponent.

Rorschach
Thursday, 02/10/2011 - 09:16AM

Sam, what you say is correct as far as it goes, the problem is when his professional work intersects his legislative duties. He should be recusing himself from one or the other to prevent this sort of conflict of interest, but he did not. Steve Mostyn clearly tried to influence Rep Todd Hunter when he was acting as arbitrator on these TWIA settlements by making a very sizable political donation to him only a week or so before he was appointed as arbitrator. Clearly Mostyn had prior knowledge that Hunter would be appointed to that position and sought to influence him. Taylor was right in seeking the records. This is just more fallout from that fight.

FrancisBaken
Thursday, 02/10/2011 - 01:53PM

Larry Taylor is my representative. I've watched him for years both in and around Friendswood and in Austin. Larry's father was a well known and respected insurance agent. So was my father. Larry's dad and my dad were old school insurance agents. They made their living selling insurance and they protected their clients by getting their clients claims paid. They were independent businessmen who ran small businesses. They were not wealthy men and neither is Larry. Larry took over the family business years back. The apple does not fall far from the tree and Larry is known as a straight up guy who watches out for his clients. Just like his dad did. He is as old school when it comes to honesty and ethics as his dad was. The great thing about Larry being in the Texas legislature is that we had a person that understands the insurance business. Few people in the Texas legislature understand insurance and that is why Larry is the guy people in the legislature turn to when it comes to insurance issues.

It is no secret that Larry is in the insurance business. It is laughable that KHOU used that very well known fact as some kind of smoking gun when it comes to Larry. Gee, Larry sells insurance - DUH!

All the KHOU piece did was show that a lawyer Mostyn has some kind of issues with Larry. If he or someone else thought that the robo calls were a good idea they were very wrong. Judging from the buzz around Friendswood right now the calls actually backfired. All they did was get a lot of folks who were surprised that Larry was "in trouble" to tune in and see that there was no story. And there was not one.

Many of us in Friendswood like Larry Taylor and are proud of him. Why KHOU would broadcast such an absurd non-story about Larry is much more interesting than the story itself. As is why did someone initiate the robo calls against Larry.

JimB
Thursday, 02/10/2011 - 08:14PM

Did the previous posters miss the part that Rep. Taylor (Co) chairs the committee that provides oversight for TWIA? An entity that has paid him hundreds of thousands in income. Could there be a more clear conflict?

I could spell out many scenarios where a Legislator in a similar capacity could use his / her powerful influence over the organization to protect, enhance, or increase that elected officials personal income.

I'm sure Taylor will be re-elected by his small district, and I'm sure nothing will come of this. Shameful.

Vic Graffio
Monday, 07/18/2011 - 07:22PM

Mr Taylor...which came first ...Your occupation of insurance salesman selling TWIA insurance ..or your position as co-chair of the legislative panel charged with oversight of TWIA?

Sir, Have you no shame?

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