The American Council of Life Insurers has brought on former Sen. Dirk Kempthorne (R-Idaho) as its president and CEO.
Kempthorne replaces former Oklahoma Republican Gov. Frank Keating, who has led the ACLI since January 2003.
“The members of ACLI are excited about Dirk Kempthorne taking the reins of our dynamic organization,” ACLI Chairman C. Robert Henrikson said in a statement. “Life insurers help provide financial and retirement security to 75 million families. Dirk will be a tremendous asset in advocating for an industry that plays a vital role in Americans’ lives.”
Kempthorne will join the trade group in November.
Kempthorne served in the Senate from 1993 to 1999. He then served six and a half years as governor. He also served as secretary of the Interior under President George W. Bush. He had also been considered a long-shot Republican presidential candidate for 2012.
Kempthorne has not previously registered to lobby, according to Senate lobby disclosure records.
The ACLI has been searching for a new chief since January. Keating’s contract with the group expires in February.
The ACLI’s decision to replace Keating with another Republican runs counter to what industry sources expected when the trade group began the hiring process. Sources familiar with the ACLI search said the association was seeking a moderate Democrat to fill the position.
Former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) and Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), a former state insurance commissioner, were said to be under consideration. ACLI’s top lobbyist, Kim Dorgan, who is the wife of retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), was also said to be in the running for the CEO job.
But the growing expectation that Republicans will have large gains in the House and the Senate has changed the political dynamic. With the 112th Congress likely to tackle tax reform, the ACLI will be on the defensive to maintain provisions for life insurance products in the tax code.
Henrikson said Keating will be a tough act for Kempthorne to follow. During his tenure, Keating helped burnish the trade group’s reputation and put the association on better financial footing. He also lured back to the ACLI more than 50 companies, including MassMutual, MetLife and other large insurers.
Keating also moved to make the ACLI more bipartisan during his tenure, promoting Dorgan as its chief lobbyist and pressuring the trade group to make is political giving more balanced.
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.
“Dirk will have very big shoes to fill,” Henrikson said. Keating “has been a first-class advocate for the life insurance industry during one of the most eventful periods in life insurers’ history.”