With Orrin Hatch having finally announced that he is not seeking another term in the U.S. Senate, and all attention now focused on the process to replace him, one might think that the large amounts of money still flowing to the senator, and his nonprofit foundation, no longer matter.
One would be wrong.
As outlined in a recent article by Tribune Washington Bureau Chief Thomas Burr, the campaign to create a living memorial to the six-term senator has raked in at least $6 million already — toward a likely goal of $100 million or more.
The sources of that haul are, for the most part, not being made public. And, under the existing regime of thin and seldom-enforced regulations on such matters, may never be.
The plan is to create an institution of some sort — probably at one of the state’s universities — not just to house the senator’s papers and memorabilia but also to sponsor scholarships, seminars and the education of future generations of public servants.
Which is a good idea. Such institutions honoring former senators exist in Nevada (Harry Reid), Kansas (Bob Dole) and Massachusetts (Edward Kennedy), among other places.
What’s not so good is the fact that Hatch is still in office, still chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, still in a strong position to do valuable favors for people, institutions and corporations to whom he might somehow feel beholden.
There is talk of another round of tax cuts yet this year. Health care, which is in the Finance Committee’s portfolio, is always a big issue. More specifically, Hatch’s longtime support for the tax-free status of credit unions seems to be weakening just as Utah’s biggest bank, Zions, has offered itself as host of the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation.
Even after Hatch steps down, it is likely that his lifetime of expertise and connections will be a valuable commodity, a commodity available to those who have favored the Hatch Foundation with their generosity.
The sources of all this largesse might even matter more in the case of Hatch. That’s because there is reason to believe that those who promised to create and fund the foundation had a not-altogether-ulterior motive: to persuade Hatch, who spent months dancing on the fence, to finally step aside and open the field to other hopefuls.
So it matters who is giving Hatch — or his foundation — all that money. Because there is every reason to believe that such gifts are not offered out of the goodness of the donors’ hearts, or even their affection for Old Owl Orrin.
Even when a politician is on his way out of office, money talks. It buys access, a feeling of indebtedness, a willingness to return phone calls or share insights.
The foundation should make public the names and amounts of all its donations. An institution dedicated to public service should do no less.