Questions surround potential political hiring by elected official

The state insurance department is employing close relatives of politicians who have supported current Insurance Commissioner John Doak. Fox 25 learned the jobs offered for the positions were never advertised to the public.

Commissioner Doak says the practice is perfectly legal and state law gives him the authority, as an elected official, to appoint any person to any position without advertising jobs. He says during his time in office he has employed first-degree relatives of three different lawmakers, but was not directly involved in their hiring.

The first job came shortly after Doak was sworn into office in 2011. The daughter of a state representative made $40,000 for a new position she was recommended for by her father. Doak says she was qualified for the position and that type of hiring practice is common in the business community.

"Being in the business sector for over 20 years before becoming an elected official, I'm used to those calls and saying 'I'd like for someone to come work for you,'" Doak told Fox 25.

Employment records obtained by Fox 25 show the political hiring continued in 2012, the same year the legislature voted to expand the Insurance Department's fraud unit. Doak's office hired two more people, one the mother of a state senator and the other the brother of a state representative who voted in favor of the bill expanding the fraud unit.

"There's no connection between the hiring of these employees and the votes taken in the House," Doak said.

Doak says he does not see any conflict or potential conflict with job referrals coming from the lawmakers who have a say in his department's budget.

Commissioner Doak says he will review his office's hiring policies to see if more positions should be advertised, rather than appointed. But he points out that he did not break state law with the appointments and that he cannot discriminate against job candidates who have family members who are politicians.

Doak's political opponents say the fact that his position is elected, rather than appointed like a majority of other states, makes potential political entanglements more likely.

"I just feel the insurance commissioner is too involved in politics and not involved with regulating insurance companies," said Bill Viner who is running against Doak in the Republican primary.

Viner worked at the Oklahoma Insurance Department for more than a decade and has kept a close eye on the activities of the department including spending ever since he left. He believes Doak should remain more independent.

Fox 25 asked Commissioner Doak if he has used his office for the benefit of any political donors.

"No, have not," Doak said.

However, an email obtained by Fox 25 shows before Doak was ever sworn in he ordered the Insurance Department to change attorneys for companies in receivership. The email says the legal counsel assignments were "made by the Commissioner-Elect."

"Each administration selects counsel they have the opportunity to work with and the counsel we work with at the insurance department is very capable very qualified able bodied attorneys from the state of Oklahoma," Doak said.

His appointments though, went to attorneys who donated thousands of dollars to his original campaign. Many of those same attorneys have donated thousands of dollars to his current campaign as well. Doak says there was no political motivation in the assignment of counsel for receiverships.

"I think a change of administration you have an opportunity to look at the pieces and parts and players of the organization," Doak said, "And as the quarterback of the organization there's an opportunity to work with lawyers and there's a wide variety of attorneys we work with at the Oklahoma Insurance Department."

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