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Life Insurers Seek New Chief

Several high-profile Democrats, including North Dakota Rep. Earl Pomeroy and former Sen. Bob Kerrey (Neb.), are said to be in the running to fill former Oklahoma Republican Gov. Frank Keating’s post as CEO and president of the American Council of Life Insurers.

The ACLI made the decision last week to start a search to find Keating’s successor.

“ACLI leadership has established a search committee to identify candidates to replace Gov. Frank Keating,— ACLI spokesman Jack Dolan said in a statement.

Keating, who has served as head of the life insurer trade group since 2003, has a contract with the group that expires in February 2011. Keating’s salary was nearly $1.4 million in 2007, according to the group’s most recent publicly available 990 tax form.

The association is looking for a moderate Democrat to fill the position to aid in its lobbying agenda, said sources familiar with the ACLI. With tax reform coming down the pike, the ACLI is expected to be on the defensive to maintain provisions for life insurance products in the tax code. Additionally, the trade group is pushing for an optional federal charter that would allow its member companies to choose to be regulated at the federal level instead of by the states.

Dolan said the decision for Keating to leave was mutual.

The ACLI spent more than $1.9 million on lobbying during the fourth quarter of 2009, according to Senate lobbying disclosure records.

The association is expected to go through a formal search process, hiring a headhunting firm, following a member-company CEO effort, according to a source close to the industry.

Pomeroy, who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee and is a former state insurance commissioner, has an ideal background for the position, according to insurance industry sources.

But Pomeroy Legislative Director Melanie Rhinehart Van Tassell discounted her boss’s interest in the post.

“Congressman Pomeroy believes fighting for the interests of North Dakota in the U.S. House is the most important and fulfilling responsibility one could have,— Van Tassell said. “That is why he has announced his intention to seek re-election and is not considering other public or private employment opportunities.—

Still, Pomeroy voiced serious concerns at the Democratic retreat last week, according to press reports, saying that the health care debate was hurting him so badly in North Dakota that he would consider retiring if the Caucus doesn’t move on from the thorny issue.

Kerrey, a former governor of Nebraska, also fits the pedigree of the ACLI, which has a history of tapping former governors. In addition to Keating, another recent ACLI president, Carroll Campbell, also served as a Republican governor of South Carolina.

More recently, Kerrey has had a tumultuous run as president of the New School in New York. After several disputes with students, Kerrey announced this summer that he will leave the New School when his contract expires in July 2011.

“They certainly are highly qualified individuals who will be considered by the search committee,— ACLI spokesman Dolan said of Pomeroy and Kerrey.

Financial services industry sources said that the ACLI’s top lobbyist, Kim Dorgan, who is the wife of retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), is also in the running for the CEO job.

Insurance industry sources say that during his tenure at the ACLI, Keating helped restore the trade group’s reputation and put the association on better financial footing. After taking the job in 2003, Keating went on a charm offensive, luring more than 50 companies — including MassMutual, MetLife and other large insurance companies — back to the association.

Keating also made a concentrated effort to make the ACLI more bipartisan. One of his early moves was to promote Kim Dorgan to chief lobbyist. Keating also put pressure on the association to make its political giving more bipartisan.

During the 2008 election cycle, the ACLI contributed $200,000 to Democrats, nearly 56 percent of its political action committee giving. The group gave Republicans $159,000. That’s a stark contrast to its historical giving pattern. In 1998, more than 70 percent of its political contributions went to Republicans.

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