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Drug firms poured cash into Hatch campaign
Politics » Big Pharma stepped in when the Utah senator needed it most.
First Published Nov 29 2012 07:35 am • Last Updated Mar 06 2013 11:34 pm

When six-term GOP incumbent Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah faced the prospect of a mutiny from conservative activists, his allies within the pharmaceutical industry stepped in to help defend him.

New documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity show that the drug lobby’s main trade group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), gave $750,000 in 2011 to Freedom Path, a nonprofit group that spent big to help Hatch win another term.

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Despite his solid conservative credentials, Hatch drew a primary challenge from former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist. Hatch out-fundraised the challenger by an 11-1 margin, but Liljenquist was helped by super PAC FreedomWorks for America, which reported spending nearly $1 million on anti-Hatch ads.

Filings with the Federal Election Commission indicate that Freedom Path spent at least $517,000 on ads designed to help Hatch’s electoral prospects, though Freedom Path board member Scott Bensing said the group’s spending was closer to $1 million.

The drug lobby’s donation to Freedom Path was revealed on PhRMA’s newly filed Form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service, not from election filings, which do not require such information to be disclosed.

According to the document, which covers 2011, PhRMA also made contributions to several other politically linked nonprofits, including:

• $500,000 to "Montana Growth," which appears to be a group that produced fliers and radio ads supporting a conservative candidate for the state Supreme Court; • $264,500 to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a controversial organization made up of state legislators and corporate executives that creates "model legislation" in the states;

• $250,000 to the liberal-aligned Citizens for Strength and Security;

• $200,000 to anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform;

• $40,000 to the conservative Heritage Foundation, and;

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• $40,000 to the Utah Families Foundation, which Hatch helped start in the 1990s and still raises money for.

Freedom Path is a "front group set up to protect Orrin Hatch," said Russ Walker, FreedomWorks’ vice president of political and grassroots campaigns.

"Orrin Hatch has always worked hard for the drug lobby," Walker said. "He has always been an advocate for their positions."

A spokesperson for Hatch did not respond to requests for comment.

But Dave Hansen, Hatch’s campaign manager, said by law the campaign couldn’t coordinate with Freedom Path.

"We had no contact with them," he said. "And did not know what they were doing, when they did it or where they got their funds from."

According to Bensing, Freedom Path seeks a "more accountable federal budget, a balanced budget amendment and less intrusive government."

He said his organization has received money from about "eight to 10" contributors, totaling roughly $1.5 million since its launch last year. He declined to identify any of these backers. The group reported raising $850,000 in 2011 from two donors, according to an IRS document obtained bythe Center for Responsive Politics.

Earlier this year, Liljenquist complained to The Salt Lake Tribune about the lack of information about Freedom Path.

"Organizations have just as much right as people to participate in politics, but there should be visibility on who is funding them and where that money is coming from," he said.

Federal rules only require Freedom Path, which is organized as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, to disclose its donors if a contribution is earmarked for a specific advertisement. Freedom Path officials says the group has not solicited money for particular ads.

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