State Sen. Harris chairs insurance committee, invests in insurance brokers; How isn't that a conflict?

Napoleon Harris III, chairman of the Illinois Senate’s Insurance Committee for several years, recently became an “investor” with insurance brokers in Chicago’s southwest suburbs. He denies any conflict of interest.

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State Sen. Napoleon Harris, forefront, wears a black suit and checkerboard tie as he speaks during a 2019 press conference while Illinois House Speaker Chris Welch and Gov. J.B. Pritzker stand behind him.

State Sen. Napoleon Harris (forefront) speaks during a 2019 press conference while Illinois House Speaker Chris Welch (left) and Gov. J.B. Pritzker stand behind him.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo

As chairman of the Illinois Senate’s Insurance Committee, state Sen. Napoleon Harris III is a gatekeeper on legislation affecting the multibillion-dollar insurance industry.

Now the Flossmoor Democrat, a former NFL player, has joined the industry he’s helping to regulate — partnering with two men who run an insurance brokerage called the Maxx Group in the southwest suburbs, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

Even though Harris’ chairman role can affect industry profits and regulations — and consumer pocketbooks — Harris insists there’s no conflict of interest with what he calls his “new business venture.”

“This was an opportunity to support a local business run by two area guys with longstanding impeccable credentials in the field,” Harris said via text message. “These are people I’ve known for years. They’ve helped me out with my own insurance needs well before I arrived in the Senate.

“My role is that of an investor. None of this bears any relationship to my work in Springfield.

“If you look at the results, it is clear the Insurance Committee has been about improving the industry for consumers.”

Part of the recently filed economic interest statement from state Sen. Napoleon Harris III.

Part of the recently filed economic interest statement from state Sen. Napoleon Harris III.

Illinois secretary of state’s office

His panel and the rest of the General Assembly recently backed a series of consumer-friendly industry reforms pushed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, including banning what are called “short-term, limited duration” health insurance policies. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, such policies are “designed to fill temporary gaps in coverage when an individual is transitioning from one source of coverage to another,” and generally are not “subject to the consumer protections.”

Democrats in Congress have described these kinds of plans as “dangerous” and “unregulated” and “a threat to the health and financial well-being of American families.”

Based in Crestwood, the Maxx Group helps clients procure business, personal and life insurance, and advertises various types of insurance coverage for public agencies including municipal governments and park districts — agencies that often rely on state legislators for funding.

Like other state officials, Harris must file an economic interest statement each year showing outside income and financial investments. The paperwork he filed in May mentioned for the first time Maxx Group Plus, which shares the same executives and address with the Maxx Group.

Chart of campaign contributions from the insurance industry to Illinois state Sen. Napoleon Harris III.

Among the campaign contributions from the insurance industry to state Sen. Napoleon Harris III.

Illinois State Board of Elections

Harris, who joined the General Assembly in 2013 and became Insurance Committee chairman in 2019, wouldn’t answer questions about how he came to be an investor in the company, whether that entailed putting in money and what sort of income he might make from the deal.

Harris has also long derived side income through a company that runs a Beggars Pizza franchise in Harvey.

In 2022 and 2023, Harris’ campaign fund accepted contributions from the Maxx Group totaling $2,500, according to Illinois State Board of Elections records. He also has accepted at least $60,000 overall from the insurance industry since the beginning of last year, state elections board records show.

That includes $10,000 from the Allstate Insurance Company, $7,500 from State Farm Insurance, $6,000 from Cigna, and $1,500 from the political arm of the Illinois Life & Health Insurance Council that had been involved in talks over Pritzker’s legislation this year.

John Patterson, a spokesman for Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, says Harris “has shown himself to be a knowledgeable, independent voice and has fostered conversations in the Insurance Committee that have led to pragmatic solutions that work.”

State Senate President Don Harmon speaks at a podium.

State Senate President Don Harmon.

Justin L. Fowler / The State Journal-Register via AP

Harmon has also been a recipient of significant campaign money from the insurance industry, including more than $100,000 combined from Allstate and State Farm, and more than $10,000 from the Illinois Life & Health Insurance Council, with the group helping throw a fundraiser for him in December.

Harris grew up in Dixmoor, attended Thornton Township High School in Harvey, and played football at Northwestern University before becoming a linebacker for the Oakland Raiders, Minnesota Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs. He ran for U.S. Senate unsuccessfully in 2016, losing in the Democratic primary to current U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth.

Asked about Harris’ insurance committee chairmanship and his insurance broker investments, Pritzker’s office would only say that the governor “looks forward to this new era of consumer protection and will continue working with the General Assembly to deliver even more reform in the future.”

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