SALT LAKE CITY — When Sen. Orrin Hatch leaves office at the end of his term, he's going to need a home for the more than 3,000 boxes of papers he has collected during his 42 years in the U.S. Senate.
Enter the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation, a private nonprofit organization set up two years ago to not only build a library for the Utah Republican senator's papers, but also a public policy institute.
"The Hatch Center will be an incubator for policy scholarship, a forum for political discourse, a springboard for civic engagement, as well as a world-class repository of modern American legislative history," the foundation's website promises.
The foundation's director, Trent Christensen, said it will be similar to the Hoover Institution, a think tank based at Stanford University in California that Republican Herbert Hoover founded in 1919 as a World War I library before he became president.
"We envision it being one of the great educational facilities, research and nonprofit think tank institutions in the country," said Christensen, a regional finance director for Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign.
Besides promoting public discussion on the issues and preparing future political leaders, the center is expected to examine the value of bipartisanship in governing, he said.
"I think the case could be made that this kind of study could be a much-needed thing for the country right now," Christensen said.
Fundraising for the center has been underway for two years, said Scott Anderson, chairman of the foundation board, although the website surfaced just before Hatch, 83, announced his retirement in early January.
Just how much the foundation hopes to raise is also not being made public, although it could be a substantial amount. Anderson said $150 million was raised for a similar project, a library and center in Boston for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.
Anderson declined to detail how much money has been raised, but the most recent federal filing, through 2016, reported nearly $5.9 million. He said that figure reflects money collected by the foundation but not commitments made.
There have been questions about raising money for the center from lobbyists and corporations while Hatch is serving as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, but Anderson said steps have been taken to avoid any issues.
"All of this has been run by and approved by the Senate Ethics Committee, and we do have a law firm that counsels us on what can and can't be done," Anderson said. "I think what we are doing is not only legal, but ethical."
He said Rob Walker, who served as chief counsel to both the House and Senate ethics committees, continues to be retained as outside counsel to the foundation. Walker told Politico in 2016 that "Hatch insisted it comply with applicable guidelines."
Anderson said a Republican fundraiser who has raised money for Hatch's campaigns, Heather Larrison, also remains involved in the foundation, although Christensen was brought on board in October to take the reigns of the project.
It's not yet clear what impact Hatch's announcement that he is not seeking re-election this year to an eighth term will have on fundraising. Anderson said it could result in some donors waiting until Hatch leaves office at the end of the year.
"As long as he's a sitting senator, there's always the concern I think on the part of a donor that they don't want to be seen, even if they're donating to a foundation, that they are trying to influence legislation that may be before his committee," he said.
Hatch is not on the board of the foundation, but ideally would return to Utah in January 2019 as its executive director, Anderson said.
"I would hope he would write his memoirs," he said. "I hope he would be actively involved in training and mentoring."
Just when and where the center might be built has yet to be determined.
"I don't think anything will happen beyond fundraising until a university has been selected and an agreement has been reached," Anderson said. "Once that happens, then a building could be planned and could be built even while the senator is still serving."
Both the University of Utah and Brigham Young University have made their interest in the project known, although other campuses in the state may also be hoping to participate.
Jason Perry, head of the U.'s Hinckley Institute of Politics, said he and U. President David Pershing are leading an effort to attract the center. A possible site is on South Temple, near the U.'s Thomas S. Monson Center.
"There is huge interest in the papers that Sen. Hatch has collected in his time in office. There are many organizations that would love to be affiliated with him and his center and the university is one of them," Perry said.
He said if the Hatch Center were to be associated with the U., there would be "close coordination with the Hinckley Institute and the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, which is housed at the Thomas S. Monson Center.
Taxpayers would not be picking up the costs for the Hatch Center, Perry said.
"The cost for building the building and the programming for the research that is done in the center would be paid for through the Hatch Foundation, not the University of Utah," he said.
Perry said the discussions are ongoing.
"Our interest remains high, but no decisions have been made," he said.
BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said the school has been talking for some time with the senator, an alumni who earned his bachelor's degree in history from the school in 1959.
"Through the years, we have had discussion with Sen. Hatch about housing his papers in the BYU Library, but certainly nothing has been finalized," Jenkins said.
Anderson said there is a wealth of material from Hatch's long career, including three decades as chairman of key Senate committees and his role in the passage of numerous pieces of major legislation.
"He has 3,000 boxes of legislative records and legislative material, which is really almost more than anyone else," Anderson said, that will become available once Hatch leaves the Senate.
"I understand that the senator has probably the best collection of papers of any senator in recent history. Part of that is his length of his service. Part is that he's been very careful about preserving what's come through," Anderson said.10 comments on this story
Even the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate has asked for some of Hatch's papers that deal with legislation he and the Massachusetts Democrat worked on together.
"That just gives you an indication of how valuable and extensive this collection is," Anderson said.
The decisions about the center are up to Hatch, he said, and will depend on how soon the universities come up with specific proposals "and how soon the senator decides which one is to his liking."
Anderson said he hopes an agreement, which could end up involving more than one university, can be announced by July.