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Utah's Right to Know
Donald Meyers
Donald W. Meyers writes about open-government issues for The Salt Lake Tribune. He is also the site manager of utahsright.com, the Tribune's online database of public records. He is also a member of the Society of Professional Journalists' National Freedom of Information Committee and sits on the board of directors of the Utah Foundation for Open Government.

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Tax record shows how drug industry supported Orrin Hatch’s senate bid

Recent documents show that the pharmaceutical industry infused hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaign to give Sen. Orrin Hatch a seventh term.

The Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit investigative news outlet, reports that the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) contributed $750,000 to Freedom Path, a non-profit group that helped Utah’s senior senator fend off primary challenger Dan Liljenquist. A Freedom Path board member told the center that Freedom Path spent nearly $1 million supporting Hatch.

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It’s no surprise to observers of Utah’s political scene that the pharmaceutical industry would throw its support — and money — behind Hatch. After all, he cosponsored legislation that has allowed the generic-drug industry to flourish, while granting the major drug makers more power to fight patent infringements.

But the surprise is how the Center for Public Integrity found out that PhRMA was giving money to Freedom Path, a non-profit group.

Freedom Path, and similar groups, are exempt from disclosing who its contributors are. It only has to disclose donors whose funds are earmarked for specific political ads. Nor does PhRMA have to report a general donation to a non-profit political group.

During the 2012 campaign, Liljenquist complained to The Salt Lake Tribune about the lack of information on where Freedom Path got its money to fight him.

The information instead came from PhRMA’s Form 990. The Internal Revenue Service requires non-profit groups such as PhRMA, the Boy Scouts of America and Ballet West to file the forms showing their income, major expenses and salaries for their highest-paid executives.

In this case, PhRMA’s contribution to Freedom Path was noted, along with contributions to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform and the liberal-leaning Citizens for Strength and Integrity.

Legally, 501(c)4 nonprofits such as Freedom Path, can raise unlimited amounts of money for political purposes, but must have a mission that is not tied to a particular candidate, nor can it coordinate with a campaign. Freedom Path states its goals are supporting a balanced budget amendment, lower taxes and reining in government spending.

While the 990s provide a glimpse at how much PhRMA put in, using the tax records to find the contributors is akin to looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, as you have to have an idea of what groups are making contributions.

If you want to try your hand at reviewing 990s, Guidestar has forms from many organizations online.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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