Ketchum hired to lobby for post-hurricane funds

WASHINGTON: Louisiana is launching a PR and lobbying effort to boost post-hurricane reconstruction funding.

WASHINGTON: Louisiana is launching a PR and lobbying effort to boost post-hurricane reconstruction funding.

The Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA), via its fundraising group, Baton Rouge, LA-based LRA Support Foundation, has hired Ketchum Public Affairs and its lobbying unit, The Washington Group (TWG), to trumpet that message.

Heading up the effort for Ketchum and The Washington Group is former Rep. Susan Molinari (R-NY), now president of Ketchum Public Affairs, and president and CEO of TWG.

Molinari said the agencies - which pitched the account together as Ketchum - won the business a month ago and have already started work on the efforts. TWG will handle lobbying, and Ketchum will handle a national media outreach and public affairs campaign. "[We] will do a national educational campaign, as well as a lobbying effort on Capitol Hill aimed at the House," Molinari said. "It's about showing that Louisiana has made a lot of progress, but also making sure the public knows there are a large number of unmet needs."

She said outreach would include meetings with editorial boards, influencers, and opinion leaders, explaining the basis of LRA's fiscal needs.

Sean Riley, member of the LRA Support Foundation board, said Ketchum has already worked to get editorials in both The Washington Post and The New York Times.

"They've helped tell stories about the state that haven't been told, namely that the need is great and that the plans and funding requests that we have in motion are well thought out and detailed," he said.

The agencies will highlight recovery efforts LRA has made thus far, demonstrate accountability for funds already allocated, and persuade lawmakers to provide more - most immediately $4.2 billion requested by the White House that is being mulled in Congress.

The LRA is a coordinating body with a four-year mandate, created by Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) last October to address post-hurricane recovery and rebuilding in Louisiana. The LRA Support Foundation pegs the cost to develop LRA's recovery plan alone at $20 million.

Said Catherine Heitman, LRA communications director, "We needed an organization in Washington [to] help us communicate directly with policymakers, decision makers and opinion leaders."

In December, Congress approved $6.2 billion for rebuilding. Heitman said that represents 54% of the money that was allocated for recovery.

She said LRA's argument is bolstered by a White House-approved cost structure worked up - pro bono - by management consulting firm McKinsey and Co. last year. "We didn't just grab the numbers out of the air," said Heitman.

"Specifically," she said, "we need to make the case for the magnitude of the damages. The point we are making now is [the funds are] tied to individual homes and families." She added that Ketchum and TWG give Louisiana a voice. "Louisiana does not have the political clout right now in Washington - we don't have a chairman of the money committee... all we have are the facts."
 
Congress is now considering the additional $4.2 billion LRA negotiated with the White House. It is Ketchum and TWG's job to get Congress to sign the check.

Heitman said the new money would be devoted to bringing home the 780,000 Louisiana residents scattered about the US, through a program to help rebuild some 120,000 homes through grants of up to $150,000 per family. "The goal is to get people back to repair their homes, to rebuild."

Said Molinari, "We want people to understand that these numbers are scrubbed and re-scrubbed by government, and [LRA] has [made] Deloitte & Touche the accounting firm that will measure spend and report back to opinion leaders on how these funds were spent."

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