Sen. Orrin Hatch, a former LDS bishop who does not drink, has taken more money from wine, beer and liquor groups this year than any other congressional candidate.
The alcohol interests gave him $25,000. Rep. Mike Thompson, R-Calif., whose district is in California's wine country, is second with $21,568. In third place with $20,000 is Rep. Anne M. Northrup, R-Ky., who represents an area famous for bourbon.
That is not all. Hatch, R-Utah, who follows his LDS faith's admonition against smoking, took the fifth-most money this year among all congressional candidates from tobacco interests. The $13,000 he took was more than was donated to such tobacco-state politicians as Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C. ($11,000), and Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C. ($9,500).
Again, Hatch, who says he also opposes gambling, as does his LDS faith, took the 15th most among Senate candidates this year from gambling interests. The $8,000 he accepted was more, for example, than has been accepted by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who also is a Latter-day Saint and who represents a state famous for casinos. Reid took $5,000 from such groups.
Hatch even had a fund-raiser at the MGM Mirage in Las Vegas in 2003, aided by a $1,530 "in kind" donation by that casino/hotel for what Hatch's campaign said was catering and staff time. His campaign said the fund-raiser was not held for gaming interests but for health-care groups that were meeting in Las Vegas.
Rankings for donations by industry come from the Center for Responsive Politics based on data collected through Aug. 15. The Deseret Morning News also searched Federal Election Commission reports filed monthly by political action committees of industry groups to verify data and update it with some more recent donations.
A Hatch spokesman said it is not hypocrisy to take money from groups whose products the senator opposes. The spokesman said the groups may donate because they like Hatch's stands on many issues besides what he thinks personally of their products. Others question what such special interests may receive for their money.
Dave Hansen, Hatch's campaign manager, said Friday, "The senator made the decision from the beginning that if a group wanted to make a contribution because what he is doing in Washington is good for Utah and America, and it is a legal and lawful group, he would accept it."
He added, "I can't say why they contribute. But the senator is a good, strong leader for a strong economy, holding down government spending and for building a strong nation. . . . If they look at that and say, 'We like the job he is doing, and even though he doesn't use our products, we may want to make contributions.'"
Hansen noted that many of the companies "are very diversified" and offer products besides alcohol, tobacco and gambling. For example, Altria is the parent company not only of Philip Morris tobacco but also of Kraft foods. Anheuser-Busch is not only a beer company but operates amusement parks.
Meanwhile, Tony Musci, chairman of Common Cause of Utah, an advocacy group concerned about special-interest money in politics, said, "Special interests tend to give money for a reason, not just to be good Americans. It buys them access. It gives them a leg up on whatever they are up against in the legislative process. What are they getting from Sen. Hatch? I mean, Utah doesn't exactly have a big wine or tobacco industry."
Hansen said, "The senator has never made a promise for any contribution and never would do that."
The grand total accepted by Hatch this year from alcohol, tobacco and gambling interests is $44,000.
That means Hatch received more from just these donors than the combined total raised by his opponents so far for next year's election. Democrat Pete Ashdown, who plans to challenge Hatch in the senatorial election, said he has only raised about $8,000, all from individuals. Republican Steve Urquhart, a state legislator from St. George, said he will begin fund-raising soon.
Urquhart accepted $1,000 in his previous legislative races from tobacco interests and did not criticize Hatch for taking similar donations. "He can run his campaign as he sees fit, and I'll run mine as I see fit, and we'll let voters decide."
Ashdown, meanwhile, criticized the two Republicans for taking such money. "I think the marriage of money and politics is what is killing the people's power in the United States. I'm trying to run a campaign that is open and collaborative with the people rather than the special interests."Comment on this story
Ashdown and Urquhart said they expect to raise only a few hundred thousand dollars each to challenge Hatch, and will depend heavily on efforts by volunteers. Hatch, meanwhile, already had $1.7 million in the bank as of June, but he is continuing to build on that with what his campaign calls "aggressive fund-raising."Hansen said Hatch always "runs an aggressive campaign. That's the way he operates in the Senate. He's never parked or in first gear; he is always going full out." He said Hatch feels aggressive fund-raising helps the party both through contributions his campaign can make to others, and by running a solid campaign at the top of the ticket.