The insurance team at the conservative Washington, D.C. think tank Heartland Institute has split from that organization and has formed a new research and policy organization known as R Street Institute.
The divorce came after a controversial anti-global warming campaign by Heartland caused some of its corporate backers including insurers to drop their affiliations.
The Heartland ad campaign involved a billboard posted over the Eisenhower Expressway in Chicago that compared those who believe in global warming to murderers. “I still believe in global warming. Do you?” the billboard said next to a photo identified as Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. It displayed the web address for the Heartland organization.
The ad was pulled within 24-hours and future billboards likening global warming believers to Osama bin Laden, Charles Manson and Fidel Castro were cancelled.
The Heartland Institute has long questioned whether man-made global warming is a crisis.
Among the insurers that reportedly pulled their support were State Farm, the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers, and Allied World. Other corporate sponsors also severed ties.
Eli Lehrer, who headed the Center for Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate within Heartland and is now president of R Street Institute, said the “extremely ill-advised” campaign upset insurance backers of his team’s work and made it impossible for him to remain at Heartland.
“All insurance is about the business of risk. Whatever you think about climate change and global warming, whatever one thinks is going to happen in the future, there is no doubt whatsoever that a great many people think there is significant risk of climate change and of global warming,” Lehrer told Insurance Journal. “The result of that is a billboard that says people who believe that this will happen are similar to terrorists withdraws you from rational debate.”
He said that all insurers believe that while there is uncertainty, a risk of global warming exists. “If something is certain, you don’t insure it at all. But there certainly is a risk of global warming. And demeaning that is to demean a reasoned, market based approach towards insurance,” Lehrer said.
Lehrer’s new organization, R Street Institute, will follow the same free market approach on property/casualty insurance issues that it did while affiliated with the Heartland Institute and it might eventually expand beyond insurance.
“We’re a conservative free market organization with a pragmatic bent,” Lehrer said. “We want to work with anybody and everybody who shares at least some of our values.”
His group has in the past forged alliances with several environmental, consumer and tax groups on issues.
Among the issues Lehrer’s team addressed in the past are the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, the North Carolina auto insurance system, the national flood insurance program, the California Earthquake Authority, and proposals for new taxes on insurance.
Lehrer said there is room for a group like R Street even though there are already a number of insurance trade associations also vying to affect public policy because while it deals with insurance issues, R Street is independent of the industry and can take a longer-term view.
“There’s a lot more freedom to say and do what we think is right, what we think advances good public policy, without the constraints that either a private firm or a trade association faces,” he said.
While advocating for free markets, R Street will strive to be pragmatic in its recommendations.
“We want to take a reasoned, practical, generally free market position,” Lehrer said.
Lehrer said Heartland would continue to do some insurance work although all but one member of that insurance team has come over to R Street.
He said one of R Street’s first products will be a report on earthquake insurance.
Thee R Street Institute and its new website will be open for business starting June 1.
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