U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland said Monday that he believes Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine used an investigation into a failed insurance company in an attempt to pressure him to take a low profile in the governor’s race.
Westmoreland said Oxendine, a Republican candidate for governor, called him about an investigation into Southeastern U.S. Insurance, where Westmoreland served on an advisory board in 2003 and 2004. He said Oxendine told him that his name was found in company documents.
Westmoreland said Oxendine never said anything explicit, but the congressman said he felt a message was being sent. He said Oxendine said to him repeatedly that he would try to keep his name from becoming public as a favor.
Oxendine denied trying to pressure Westmoreland. He said politics had nothing to do with the call.
“Normally I would have had a staff person call him,” Oxendine said. “But since the guy is a sitting congressman, I thought it would be a little demeaning to have a staff person call him.”
Westmoreland is supporting Rep. Nathan Deal for governor. He said the call felt like a “shakedown.”
“I think he thought he was going to worry me,” Westmoreland said. “It smells funny.”
Oxendine said Monday that investigators had found documents that included Westmoreland’s name.
At the time of the call, the investigation was a civil matter, but beginning in January, the Insurance Commission launched a criminal investigation.
The private tension between the two exploded publicly after Oxendine told a reporter that Westmoreland was part of the investigation. The reporter then contacted Westmoreland’s office.
Oxendine said the reporter asked him last week to confirm Westmoreland was on the advisory board. “We didn’t want to lie,” he said.
“If anyone is trying to Monday make politics out of this, it’s not me, it’s the congressman,” Oxendine said.
The showdown between two of the state’s leading conservative politicians stems from the dissolution and takeover of Southeastern U.S. Insurance, an Atlanta-based workmen’s compensation insurer headed by M. Clark Fain. The ex-CEO had close ties to state Republicans and was a major contributor to several GOP candidates, including Westmoreland and Oxendine.
Last year, a Fulton County judge ordered the 9-year-old company’s assets placed in liquidation under Oxendine’s oversight.
Oxendine said the probe was sparked by irregularities in the company’s books and a loan for more than $10 million that Fain received from his own company. Fain declined to comment Monday.
Westmoreland described his December telephone call with Oxendine as “weird.” He said Oxendine told him to call him directly if he had any questions about the investigation.
“What the heck would I call you for?” Westmoreland said he thought at the time. Then on Friday, his office was contacted by a reporter who said Oxendine had told them he was investigating Westmoreland.
“This ain’t right,” Westmoreland said. “He knows good and well I had nothing to do with it.”
Westmoreland said he told Oxendine that he only served briefly on the board, and that was more than five years ago.
The politicians are two of the most popular figures in the state GOP, especially among conservatives.
Oxendine was first elected insurance commissioner in 1994, and had been re-elected to the statewide office numerous times. This year, he had raised more money than any other candidate for governor.
Westmoreland, of Grantville, is from Middle Georgia. He has a strong hand in recruiting GOP congressional candidates across the country.
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