Salt Lake City -- Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch insists no ethical lines were crossed when big pharmaceutical companies, which do business in Washington, gave large amounts of money to one of his favorite Utah charities. But some watchdog groups have questions.
Contributions to non-profits are usually secret, but a list of contributions to a group called Utah Families Foundation was mistakenly released by the IRS. The list includes a number of pharmaceutical companies, including one which pays Sen. Hatch's son Scott to be its lobbyist in Congress.
A Washington Times story details $172,000 in contributions to one of his favorite Utah charities, the Utah Families Foundation, including $25,000 from Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca and $40,000 from PhRMA, which employs his son Scott as a lobbyist.
Executive Director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics Melanie Sloan said, "Pharmaceutical companies have been clearly contributing to a foundation identified with Senator Hatch in the hopes of clearly currying further favor with Senator Hatch. I think this is not unusual in Washington."
A representative from PhRMA says neither Hatch nor his son ever asked the company to give money to the charity. Senior Vice president of PhRMA Ken Johnson said, "He is kind hearted, and he cares about people Senator Hatch simply sent out a letter saying if you could find it in your heart to help the Utah Families Foundation we're going to have this golf tournament with the proceeds to benefit, the money would be put to good use."
Watchdog groups say they don't doubt charities linked to lawmakers often put their money to good use, but they say the money can help interest groups gain access to lawmakers. "It looks like they have a symbiotic relationship," Sloan said. "Here Senator Hatch does what he can to help out these pharmaceutical companies, and they in return reward him by making contributions to his campaigns, to his charity and hiring his son."
The executive director of the Utah Families Foundation says the group gives upward of $700,000 to 60 or 70 Utah groups a year, including Cancer Wellness House, Road Home and the Boys and Girls Club. She says all the money makes a huge difference to hundreds and hundreds of people.
In a statement to KSL, Hatch said, "Donating time, money and other resources to charitable organizations such as the Utah Families Foundation is something I believe every individual and organization would find worthwhile. Giving to worthwhile causes is something to be celebrated. I enjoy helping others by serving as an honorary host of the foundation's annual event.
"As I understand it, the money received by the Utah Families Foundation goes to many organizations around the state which provide much needed services such as shelters for abused women and children, food pantries, soup kitchens and other worthwhile activities that the foundation's independent board of directors determines need assistance. In short, they help a lot of people and for that I'm grateful."
"Everyone who knows me can attest that I simply do what I believe is right for our state and nation, regardless of who supports me. If a company or organization decides to support the Utah Families Foundation and its wonderful mission of helping so many in need, that's great. The only benefit I receive is the knowledge that even more people will be helped."