Washington • Supporters of Sen. Orrin Hatch are raising money to build a Utah-based center in his name to serve as his library and a mini-think tank in the model of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and others who spent decades in elected office.
While details are yet to be firmed up, those close to Hatch say the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation, formed earlier this year, will raise funds to establish the temporarily named "Hatch Center," which would house the 82-year-old senator's expansive archives, host an institute devoted to discussions of public policy and civic engagement and promote bipartisan approaches to legislating.
Zions Bank CEO Scott Anderson, who is heading the foundation behind the center, said the plan is to ensure a permanent home for some of the "most historically valuable records of the inner workings of the U.S. Senate" from the past four decades.
"This unique collection, which has been sought by universities across the country, will be an extraordinary resource for our citizens," Anderson said, "and will attract visitors from throughout the region."
The eventual center, Anderson continued, would also seek to build constructive, bipartisan legislation to address the country's woes.
"At a time when Washington is too often characterized by gridlock and polarization," Anderson explained, "we hope to highlight instances where lawmakers were able to forge consensus, and to teach citizens — especially young people — how to overcome differences and work together for the common good."
Hatch, who has been in office for nearly 40 years, would be following in the steps of other long-serving senators who have libraries or centers, some of which were established before they left office. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has a center at the University of Louisville and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has one at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Hatch's office declined comment on whether raising money to build a center devoted in part to his legacy signaled that the senator wouldn't run for office again.
Hatch had said in his 2012 campaign that his seventh term would be his last, though he has backed off that promise by saying it depends on if he's in the midst of pushing through tax reforms and if his position as a senior lawmaker would be important for Utah's needs.
Those close to Hatch say he hasn't decided if he would seek another term in 2018 and has argued both for and against running for re-election.
The foundation's attorney stressed that the senator has a limited role in fundraising for the center and that the effort has been vetted by the Senate Ethics Office.
The attorney, Rob Walker, said "out of an abundance of caution," the group sought guidance from the Ethics Committee because Hatch wanted to avoid any problems "associated with some other foundations."
Supporters aren't saying how much they expect to amass for the center, though some have been told it could be in the $100 million to $150 million range.
The center would be based in Utah, possibly with a small presence in Washington, according to those involved in the effort. That could mean partnering with a university in the state.
The foundation is raising funds for the center primarily from other nonprofits, not corporations, and those involved say they don't expect to ask for any taxpayer money.
The Edward M. Kennedy Institute — which cost $78 million to build — accepted millions in federal funds for its Boston facility. The Boston Globe reported about $38.3 million in federal earmarks for the library.
Hatch's friends say it's unclear when the center would break ground or in what exact form it could end up being. One supporter noted they could start moving forward in six months or in three years.
This much is certain: The center would host a large cache of Hatch's papers in office — from legislation and speeches he's written to correspondence with presidents and government officials. Hatch has employed an archivist for some 15 years to start cataloging those papers.