WASHINGTON – The former federal disaster chief hired by Louisiana to help lead its Hurricane Katrina (search) recovery has registered to lobby for an insurance company that wants Congress to create a natural disaster "catastrophe fund."
Former Federal Emergency Management Agency (search) director James Lee Witt (search) and his firm, James Lee Witt Associates, registered Tuesday to lobby for Allstate Insurance Co. Their mission: "To draft and introduce model legislation creating a natural disaster catastrophe fund," says the registration, posted Thursday by the lobbying tracking service Political Money Line.
Witt's lobbying for the fund comes while he's on the payroll of the state of Louisiana. Gov. Kathleen Blanco (search) hired him earlier this month as a consultant to advise her on the state's hurricane relief work.
Mindful of the potential appearance of a conflict of interest, Witt is turning away prospective clients who want him or his firm to lobby in Louisiana, and is refusing to do such work for existing clients, said Barry Scanlon, a firm partner and lobbyist.
"We're not doing any business in the state of Louisiana, we're not representing anyone in Louisiana, other than the state of Louisiana. That's where our loyalty lies," Scanlon said.
Though the registration was filed this week, the firm's work for Allstate began Aug. 1, nearly a month before the hurricane struck, Scanlon said.
Witt headed FEMA in the Clinton administration. His Washington firm lobbies on disaster issues for several clients and also serves as a consultant on disaster preparedness planning, training and assessments. Less than 5 percent of the firm's revenue comes from lobbying, said Scanlon, a special assistant to Witt while they were at FEMA.
Witt's experience at FEMA was among the reasons Allstate hired him, company spokesman Michael Trevino said.
"He's an expert," Trevino said.
Under the catastrophe fund proposal, insurers would cover homeowners' natural disaster-related claims up to a certain amount. The state affected by the disaster would cover claims over that amount up to a certain level, and the federal government would cover them beyond that.