Washington • As tea party conservatives took aim at Sen. Orrin Hatch, his Republican colleagues sent reinforcements in the form of campaign contributions that have added up to more than $370,000.
That hefty sum matches the amount Hatch’s GOP challenger has been able to raise from all sources combined.
In his bid for a seventh and final term in office, Hatch has received financial help from 35 of his 46 Republican colleagues, including $80,000 in checks sent since the Utah state convention narrowed the field, pitting Hatch against former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist. The primary election will take place Tuesday.
Hatch takes the contributions of his colleagues personally.
“I’ve been moved by every one of them who has supported me,” he said. “I think it is just a matter of really dear friendships.”
He also hinted that fellow incumbents likely share some sympathy for those running in a time where most are dissatisfied with the performance of Congress.
“It’s a tough time to run,” Hatch said.
Noticeably absent from the list is Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and his tea party allies Sens. Jim DeMint, of South Carolina, and Rand Paul, of Kentucky.
While none of them has spoken out against Hatch, they have closely aligned themselves with FreedomWorks, a national group that has spent heavily to oust Utah’s longest serving senator.
Lee has said he plans to sit out the Utah race and let voters pick the nominee, though he has endorsed Republican challengers in other Senate races. Senators commonly support home-state colleagues and Lee’s recalcitrance has irritated Hatch.
Special interests • Meanwhile, the big money Hatch has raised from Senate Republicans irritates Liljenquist, though he doesn’t find it surprising.
He derides the practice as a way for special interests to send even more money to those who support their policy goals, by giving a maximum contribution to Hatch and then money to his colleagues, who in turn funnel it back to Hatch.
“It allows them to get around contribution limits,” Liljenquist said.
That’s an easy accusation to make but a hard one to prove, says Jennifer Duffy with the Cook Political Report, which handicaps Senate races. The so-called “leadership PACs” run by senators take contributions from a wide range of business interests and individuals making it difficult to argue that one donation was earmarked to help a specific senator.
Duffy looks at this giving between senators as a way to protect their own and Hatch is well liked among his colleagues.
“I just think it is one of the spokes of an incumbent’s fundraising advantage,” she said. “ I actually think he’s probably doing a little bit better on this front than most.”
Ten senators gave Hatch the maximum contribution of $15,000, which equates to $5,000 each for Utah’s convention, primary and general election.
Among them is Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who said Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, will play a key role in the debate over reforming the tax code and reducing the national debt.
“We’ve got to get this USA cruise ship turned around and headed in the right direction. He’ll be one of the captains. We don’t need another private,” Roberts told The Tribune just off the Senate floor this week.
The assistance of Senate Republicans has gone beyond contributions. On back-to-back days in late May, Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and John Barrasso, R-Wyo., came to Utah to campaign for Hatch, heaping praise on their colleague.
“I can’t imagine what it would be like not having Orrin Hatch in the U.S. Senate, with that conservative, aggressive, thoughtful leadership,” Barrasso said at an event before the Utah Farm Federation Bureau.
Returning the favor • The support goes both ways. Hatch is vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and as such is a key fundraiser for the group. He also sends contributions to Republican incumbents and candidates through OrrinPAC, his leadership political action committee.
He gave Roberts and Barrasso the maximum amount of $10,000 in recent months (those states don’t have party conventions). In all, OrrinPAC has contributed more than $150,000 to Republican candidates this campaign cycle.
“I’ve spent an awful lot of money helping colleagues both in the Senate and the House,” Hatch said.
The NRSC is run by Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who told reporters in January 2011 that he wanted incumbents to fend for themselves in primaries and that he had no intention of funneling money to Hatch.
That commitment didn’t last long. Six months later the NRSC ended up giving Hatch the maximum contribution of $43,100 and Cornyn has since used his Alamo PAC to send another $15,000 to the Utahn. This is not without precedent. The NRSC helped Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, in his unsuccessful bid for a third-term in 2010 and the group gave a maximum contribution to Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., who lost a primary to a conservative challenger last month.
Liljenquist doesn’t see the giving between senators as an altruistic move to help the Republican Party or as a matter of friends helping respected colleagues, as Hatch describes it.
“It’s a game he plays. He donates to other people and they donate to him,” he said. “We know he has been able to raise millions of dollars. The vast majority of that money has come from out-of-state groups with business before Congress. People need to look and ask if this man will truly change the debt and spending in Washington.”
Hatch has spent $7.6 million on his reelection since the start of 2011 and had $1.89 million left in his account, as of the first week of June. Liljenquist, who has also spent $400,000 of his own money in the race, had $164,000 in available funds, according to the latest disclosure reports.
GOP establishment gives big to Hatch
Hatch has collected contributions from many prominent Republicans in Washington, D.C.
$327,500 from sitting Republican senators
$43,100 from the National Republican Senatorial Committee
$10,000 from House Speaker John Boehner
$5,000 from presidential candidate Mitt Romney