- The Washington Times - Monday, March 2, 2009


The pharmaceutical industry that long has benefited from Sen. Orrin G. Hatch’s legislative efforts has directed large sums of money to a charity he helped found — and still raises money for — while also hiring the Republican lawmaker’s son as a lobbyist.

Though Congress boasts that it is more transparent after passing new disclosure rules, Americans have had no way of knowing about the drugmakers’ largesse to the charity, Utah Families Foundation. No way, that is, until a normally confidential tax filing was mistakenly released by the Internal Revenue Service to a nonprofit database last year.

The tax form, obtained by The Washington Times, shows that five pharmaceutical companies and the industry’s main lobbying group wrote checks in 2007 to the Utah Families Foundation — some as large as $40,000 — that far exceed what they could give publicly to Mr. Hatch’s campaigns.

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The donations, $172,500 in all, came at the same time that the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) was paying one of Mr. Hatch’s sons, Scott, to be its lobbyist in Congress.

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 review by The Times found.

The tale of the Utah Families Foundation provides fresh evidence that the campaign-finance limits and transparency reforms that President Obama demanded and that Congress enacted still leave avenues for interests to route large sums of money to lawmakers’ favorite causes without disclosure.

“This could be more common than we know,” said Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor who now heads the political watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which first spotted the errantly released tax form.

“When companies need a member of Congress and they’ve already donated to their campaigns, they can make very large contributions to members’ foundations,” she said. “It’s another way to curry favor with a member of Congress.”

Family ties

Under the law, companies lobbying Congress have to report donations to charities “established, financed, maintained or controlled” by a member of Congress. Mr. Hatch helped start the organization and serves as a host at its fundraisers, but he’s not on its board of directors.

Mr. Hatch, one of the most influential lawmakers in Congress, is among several politicians in the past decade to found or help raise money for favored charitable organizations that could still fall outside federal disclosure requirements. Others include former President Bill Clinton, who is an officer of the private Clinton Family Foundation, and Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican who was convicted of corruption charges.

Questions were raised when Hillary Rodham Clinton became a candidate for secretary of state and it was disclosed that the foundation had raised about a half-billion dollars since 1997, including tens of millions from foreign governments and other overseas sources.

In a statement to The Times, Mr. Hatch confirmed his role in raising money for the Utah Families Foundation and his son’s lobbying for the very drug industry that enriched the charity. But he insisted there was no blurring of ethical lines.

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