WASHINGTON An error by Sen. Orrin Hatch's office forced him to vote "present" on the end-of-the year spending bill that contained a $294,000 project for a client of his son's lobbying firm.
Hatch, R-Utah, entered a statement into the Congressional Record Tuesday about an "unintended oversight" involving a request for the Old Dome Meeting Hall Renovations project in Riverton, Utah.
Hatch's son, Scott Hatch, of the lobbying firm Walker, Martin and Hatch, had been hired by Riverton to work on getting funding for the project but Hatch had signed a certification saying that no one in his family would benefit from anything in his appropriations request.
Hatch's office said that when Hatch made his overall funding requests for the various projects in May, he did not realize his list included a request for the renovation. In September, under new Senate rules, he signed the certification.
But Hatch, in his official statement, which was not made on the floor but inserted into the record, said as his staff was reviewing files related to the omnibus bill, they noticed the project was on the list.
Hatch should not have made the initial request for the project and should not have signed the certification based on this fact because of the conflict.
"I have chosen to address these issues openly on the floor of the Senate to clear up any facts regarding this completely unintended and unfortunate oversight," Hatch said in the Congressional Record statement. "I want my colleagues to know that I always have and will continue to do everything possible to ensure I meet all ethics laws, rules and requirements here in the United States Senate."
In a letter sent to Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., Hatch clarified that an immediate family member may have an "indirect pecuniary interest" in the project so he withdrew his request. He also just voted present on the massive spending bill, which he said he would have supported, to further adhere to "high ethical standards," he said.
Hatch spokeswoman Heather Barney said part of the reason this was just discovered was that funding for the Riverton project was not included in any Senate spending bill. Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, also requested money for the project, which they noticed in the omnibus bill. Barney emphasized that Hatch never made any calls for the bill or pushed for it, or did anything to put it ahead of any other piece of legislation.
The bill passed anyway, including the Riverton funding.
Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said with the new ethics rules there is confusion as to how they will be implemented.
"I applaud your aggressiveness in making sure that you have done everything within your knowledge and power to ensure that you have complied with all the rules and requirements that are specified by the rules of the Senate with regard to the use of earmarks," Cochran said."Our discussion today provides the type of transparency intended by the ethics rules and should satisfy all requirements with regard to letters of pecuniary interest and earmarks as they relate to your situation."