GOP senator Orrin Hatch's charity tied to massive pharmaceutical donations
John Byrne
Published: Monday March 2, 2009

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A charity founded by a senior Republican lawmaker who was a key ally to the pharmaceutical industry received more than $170,000 in 2007 from drugmakers, far in excess of campaign finance rules had the money been donated to him directly, leaked documents show.

The senator, Orrin Hatch (R-UT), founded Utah Families Foundation, the recipient of the gifts, though he doesn't serve on the foundation's board. But his son is now the chief lobbyist for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the industry's lobbying group.

Hatch has received more money from the pharmaceutical industry than any other group, raking in $1.25 million since 1998. The latest sums, however, dwarf that of previous donations from individual corporations. In 2007, the foundation received $25,000 from Eli Lilly, $30,000 from Barr Pharmaceuticals, $25,000 from AstraZeneca and $40,000 from PhRMA.

The figures were part of the foundation's tax returns and accidentally released by the Internal Revenue Service to a nonprofit group. As a tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization, Utah Families Foundation isn't required to disclose a donor list.

The same year Utah Families Foundation received massive gifts, Sen. Hatch voted on a bill relating to Medicare Part D. Hatch voted against a bill requiring that the government negotiate discounted prices from drugmakers, a measure the industry vehemently opposed. In 2005, Hatch also voted against a measure that would have allowed Medicare to negotiate bulk prices for prescription drugs.

"And if that weren't enough political intrigue, the tax-exempt charitable foundation, which the senator from Utah helped start in the 1990s and still vigorously supports, has been delinquent for nearly a decade in filing its required annual reports with Utah state officials," a Washington Times review by Jim McElhatton and Jerry Seper found, the reporters who revealed the documents.

Contacted about the report, Sen. Hatch defended his son's work as a pharmaceutical industry lobbyist.

"My son, Scott, does not lobby me or anyone in my office. He is a very moral and ethical person," Hatch said. "As for the Utah Families Foundations, my limited involvement consists mainly of attending their events. As with most service opportunities, I find even these small gestures are very gratifying ways to volunteer my time and give to those less fortunate in our community.

"Giving charitable contributions of time or money to good causes is something I believe every individual and organization should try to do," Hatch continued. "Organizations choosing to donate to the Utah Families Foundation are giving resources to help Utah's families in need from all corners of our state and that is very admirable."

Melanie Sloan, director of the Washington ethics group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics and Washington, pointed out that the activity was only discovered because the IRS made a mistake. Due to the way nonprofit law works, and the fact that many members of Congress have personal "pet" charities, such giving can fly far below the radar and still potentially have meaningful impact as a lobbying tool. Citizens for Ethics first spotted the IRS form.

"This could be more common than we know," Sloan said.

"When companies need a member of Congress and they've already donated to their campaigns, they can make very large contributions to members' foundations," Sloan added. "It's another way to curry favor with a member of Congress."

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