Friday, June 18, 2010

Sources: Barry Switzer, J. C. Watts Stand To Share In Huge Highway Traffic Camera Plan Fee

The McCarville Report Online has been told that former University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer and his former star quarterback, ex-Congressman J. C. Watts, will share in a huge fee if the Chicago-based InsureNet is successful in its bid to help implement a system of highway traffic cameras to catch insurance scofflaws in Oklahoma and other states.

Thus far, however, Oklahoma is the only state where the firm's system has won gubernatorial and legislative approval and is in the process of being adopted; it has been rejected in other states, including Nevada and Pennsylvania, primarily because of privacy concerns raised by opponents. Failure by the company to win contracts in those, and other, states apparently means the two have been paid nothing for their efforts to date. In Oklahoma, the company is one of four bidders and may or may not be awarded the contract.

One of those involved says he knows nothing about any fees promised Switzer, Watts, or others, including himself.

Switzer has been the company's out-front representative in Oklahoma, meeting with Governor Henry's chief budget writer, Treasurer Scott Meacham, to push for inclusion of the company's plan in Henry's budget.

While Switzer has contended Henry "has nothing to do with this," it was Henry's action in including the plan in his budget that would make possible the fee due Switzer and others for their lobbying if InsureNet were to be awarded the contract. Switzer was one of Henry's chief fundraisers in his 2002 campaign and is credited with helping Henry win his upset victory over Republican Steve Largent.

Bids on the plan, which Henry claims will generate $50 million for the state in its first year of operation, have been taken by the Department of Central Services after being outlined by the Department of Public Safety and its expert, David Beatty; a contract has not yet been awarded. Payment due the firm chosen to implement the plan is estimated in the 25-30 percent range.

InsureNet reports on its website that it now has formed a partnership with Intelligent Imaging Systems (IIS) to "blend their respective technologies in order to provide added functionality relating to vehicle insurance verification. IIS is a leading supplier of Smart Roadside™ solutions for the Transportation Safety and Security market. IIS’ automated electronic screening systems represent the evolution in effectiveness and efficiency of roadside law enforcement operations. With technology deployed in almost half the States and Provinces in North America, IIS is leading the way in helping public agencies use technology to improve highway safety and security."

Watts, a Republican who is now a Washington lobbyist, has not been publicly visible in working for InsureNet. Sources say, however, that he has worked behind the scenes on the company's behalf, "opening doors" in several states. Oklahoma City lobbyist Chad Alexander, Watts' former campaign manager and spokesman, is InsureNet's Oklahoma lobbyist. Alexander did not respond to questions about Watts' involvement, nor did House Speaker Chris Benge. Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, through spokesman Randy Swanson, said he's had no contact with Watts. TMRO has been told that Watts had contact with a key member of Benge's staff when the push to land the contract for InsureNet began a year ago.

Former Rep. Wayne Pettigrew, whose contract with InsureNet expired May 31st, said he doesn't believe Watts is active in the Oklahoma effort: "I believe JC’s consulting company was only used in Louisiana."

Efforts to determine if Watts has been active on the company's behalf in Canada, where he was a popular professional football player, have been unproductive. InsureNet has pursued its automated license plate recognition system in that country.

Capitol sources say it may be the involvement of Republicans Watts, Pettigrew and Alexander that resulted in no questions about the plan from Republican House and Senate leaders, or from Republican Rep. Randy Terrill of Moore, chairman of the House Budget Subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Department of Public Safety budget. Some observers found it curious that Republicans asked no public questions about the controversial use of the cameras, opposed by civil libertarians and privacy advocates, or about how the revenue figure was determined. Benge and Coffee approved the plan, apparently without question, when they signed off on Henry's budget.

Identified by The McCarville Report Online as part of the InsureNet "team" through company documents and sources are Switzer, Watts, former OU players and brothers Tinker and Steve Owens, Alexander, and Pettigrew. Tinker and Steve Owens are Norman insurance agents. Steve Owens says he was approached to join the InsureNet "team" but declined to do so; he was unaware a company document with his photograph was being used.

Pettigrew told TMRO he was contacted more than a year ago by Tinker Owens and asked to arrange a meeting with InsureNet's top official and Rep. Ken Miller, chairman of the House Budget Committee. Pettigrew said they subsequently had lunch. Miller confirmed the lunch and said he took no action as a result, and did not advocate InsureNet's plan with anyone.

A source with access to details of the alleged agreement involving Switzer and Watts says Switzer is to be paid 2 percent of the company's possible revenue in the states where he's been active, while Tinker Owens is listed also at 2 percent, with Watts, Pettigrew and Texan Jack West listed at 1 percent. West, who is in the insurance business, is a former pro football star known as the player who once ran into a goal post.

Pettigrew, however, told TMRO he knows nothing about those percentages or any contract outlining them.

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