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Candidate Morrison brings his message to Havre

State Auditor John Morrison said he is running for re-election because he wants to help Montanans.

"I want to continue to stand up for Montana consumers and promote small business," he said in an interview in Havre this week.

Morrison, who was elected auditor and commissioner of investments and insurance in 2000, is running unopposed in the primary. He will face Sen. Duane Grimes, R-Clancy, in November's general election.

State auditor is Morrison's first elected position, although he has other political experience. The native of Flathead Valley worked for U.S. Sen. John Melcher, D-Mont., for 1 years in the 1980s. Morrison said he wrote the Farm Credit Act of 1987 for Melcher, which paid off the debt the farm credit system had in 10 years and changed the way agricultural loans are restructured if they are in arrears.

He returned to Montana in 1988 and began practicing law in Helena.

Morrison was Montana's sole delegate to the Democratic National Platform Committee in 1992.

In addition to licensing and regulating insurance and investment firms, his office protects and helps Montana consumers and businesses in several ways, he said.

One way is by assisting people whose insurance claims have been denied. Morrison said his office receives about 40,000 calls every year from Montanans whose claims have been denied, and helps them receive payment.

"We have recovered about $15 million in paid claims since I've been in office," he said, adding that it's the largest amount recovered over three years in the history of the office.

He said that another way his office protects consumers is by investigating and prosecuting illegal investment and insurance activity. Since he was elected, his office has performed about 300 investigations and has successfully prosecuted 50 administrative cases and 30 criminal cases, Morrison said.

In a high-profile case, Morrison's office investigated a broker working for US Bancorp Piper Jaffray in Butte when investors, many of whom were senior citizens, claimed he had invested their money illegally. Morrison said his office recovered $1.5 million for the 38 investors and imposed a $1 million fine, "which was the largest fine ever imposed by a state's securities regulator in a case involving a stockbroker. We permanently revoked the broker, banned his supervisor from supervising and we obtained an agreement from the brokerage firm that they would change their practices nationally."

Piper Jaffray agreed to pay the money in a settlement, in which it admitted no wrongdoing.

The auditor's office tries to help businesses in several ways, Morrison said.

One vehicle Morrison has promoted is using captive insurance.

"My goal has been to make Montana the premier captive insurance domicile in the Western United States," he said.

Captive insurance companies are created by large companies or associations of small companies to insure themselves. The companies insured have the controlling interest in the insurance company.

Morrison said that by the year's end his office expects to have 15 captive insurance companies in Montana, and the state now has more than any other Western state.

His office pushed the Legislature to amend the regulations for making small stock offerings to start or expand businesses. Now stock can be offered to 35 people instead of 10 before the company has to go through the process required for companies making a large stock offering. Morrison's office has sponsored workshops to tell businesses the new procedures as well as how to form partnerships. He said seven or eight companies have raised capital by doing so since he took office.

Some other proposals have failed in the Legislature, but will be raised again.

Morrison said his office wanted legislation passed that would have limited the credit information that can be used in evaluating applications for homeowner and auto insurance. In the late 1990s, companies started using information like medical expenses and the number and kinds of credit cards people have to adjust their rating for insurance. That can increase premiums or even prevent a policy from being issued, he said.

"And we think that's not fair," Morrison added.

The bill failed in 2003, but Morrison said it will be proposed again in 2005.

Another bill Morrison wanted passed would have given advance tax credits to help businesses pay for health insurance. The credit would have amounted to about $150 a month for each employee, he said. The bill would have directed part of Montana's tobacco settlement money to pay for the program, "but the Legislature decided to do otherwise," he said.

Health organizations around the state are now collecting signatures to place an initiative on the ballot that mirrors the bill, he said.

Working with the governor's Office of Economic Development, Morrison also helped propose a bill that would have encouraged the creation of companies that offer venture capital. That bill died in the Senate on a tie vote, but "We believe that it will pass in 2005," Morrison said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.


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