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La. adviser on recovery is lobbyist for insurer

WASHINGTON -- As a former federal disaster chief, James Lee Witt is advising Louisiana's governor on hurricane recovery. And as a lobbyist for an insurance company, he is simultaneously urging Congress to create a fund to ease insurers' burdens from disaster claims, according to records from a tracking service.

The former Federal Emergency Management Agency director and his firm, James Lee Witt Associates, registered this week to lobby for Allstate Insurance Co.

The associates, in part, described their mission as: ''To draft and introduce model legislation creating a natural disaster catastrophe fund." The mission statement was in the registration form, which was posted yesterday by the Political Money Line lobbying tracking service.

Witt is lobbying for the fund while he is working for the State of Louisiana; Governor Kathleen Blanco hired him this month to advise her on the state's Hurricane Katrina relief effort.

Witt is mindful of the potential appearance of a conflict of interest, so he and his firm are turning away prospective clients who want them to lobby in Louisiana, said Barry Scanlon, a firm partner and a lobbyist.

''We're not doing any business in the state of Louisiana; we're not representing anyone in Louisiana other than the state," Scanlon said.

Though the Allstate lobbying registration was filed Tuesday with Congress, the firm's work for the company began Aug. 1, almost 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 it consults on disaster planning, training, and assessments. Less than 5 percent of the firm's revenue comes from lobbying, said Scanlon, who was a special assistant to Witt while they were at FEMA.

Witt's FEMA work was a reason Allstate hired him, said an Allstate spokesman, Michael Trevino.

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