Hatch hitting fundraising hard in chairmanship bid
Senate • His chairmanship can happen only with GOP majority.
Published: March 18, 2013 06:00PM
Updated: May 31, 2013 11:35PM
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Tribune file photo U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch

Washington • Most senators take a break from raising campaign money in the months after winning re-election, especially those who have no intention of running again.

Not Sen. Orrin Hatch.

He’s hitting fundraiser after fundraiser in Washington, D.C., catching the eye of campaign finance watchdogs who wonder what he plans to do with all that cash.

His advisers say the senator remains in campaign mode with one goal in mind — giving Republicans the majority in the Senate. It’s the only way the Utah Republican can take the reins of the Senate Finance Committee, the powerful panel that oversees tax policy and major programs like Social Security and Medicare.

“He has an interest in becoming Chairman Hatch instead of just Ranking Member Hatch,” said Michael Kennedy, the senator’s chief of staff.

And the clock is ticking. Hatch is expected to retire in 2018 after 42 years in office. That means Republicans would have to overtake the Democrats in 2014 or 2016 for him to become the chairman. Republicans now control 45 Senate seats, so they would have to gain at least six for the party to win a majority. The Cook Political Report, which handicaps federal races, has listed three Democrat-controlled seats as tossups in the 2014 contest.

Hatch has an added incentive to stay in the fight. He’s the Senate’s most senior Republican and if the party wins control, he becomes the Senate president pro tem. It is a largely ceremonial position but it would put him third in line to the presidency behind the vice president and speaker of the House.

The senator has attended at least five fundraisers since his final term began in January, all to benefit his political action committee OrrinPAC, through which he’ll ship money to the campaigns of fellow Republicans.

He’s held two fundraisers in the past week alone. On Tuesday, Hatch hit a breakfast sponsored by Diageo North America, one of the world’s biggest liquor companies and owners of such brands as Smirnoff, Captain Morgan and Guinness. Two days later, he attended a similar event sponsored by DLA Piper, a global law firm.

The senator has at least three more fundraisers in the works, according to invitations sent to the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit government transparency group.

On March 21, the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists is hosting the senator and in April, two drug companies, AmerisourceBergen and Emergent BioSolutions are sponsoring separate events.

The Sunlight Foundation noted that Hatch’s fundraising schedule was unusually active.

“Senator Hatch’s example shows how never-ending the money chase is and how many opportunities there are for deep-pocketed political givers to make investments,” said Kathy Kiely, the managing editor of the Sunlight Foundation.

“The effort to amass power — and the money it takes to consolidate it — continues well after Election Day.”

Hatch’s fundraising machine was running at top pace in the past two years. He spent more than $10.5 million on his tough 2012 contest, a record for a Utah race. During that same two-year period, he sent more than $285,000 to other Republican candidates through OrrinPAC.

That PAC had more than $253,000 in available cash at the end of January, the most the senator has ever had on hand. It’s an amount that is expected to skyrocket in months to come.

mcanham@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mattcanham