Utah Stories

Corporate Puppet Masters and Orrin Hatch

Senator Hatch’s latest legislation allows for certain supplements to be classified as foods, not drugs. How does this affect what Utahns purchase?


There is a landmark, 21-year anniversary celebration going on at Utah’s health supplement businesses.

In 1994, Sen. Orrin Hatch passed groundbreaking legislation to allow supplements—which are pills, powders and homeopathic remedies and steroids—to be classified not as drugs but as food. We thought it appropriate to examine the political career of Utah’s most famous Senator and attempt in this story to answer the question of how Hatch became one of the most powerful men in Washington.

Senator Hatch’s 2012 political campaign raised over $4 million dollars, of which just nine percent came from Utah donors. This is the highest dollar amount any political campaign in Utah has ever raised. And it doesn’t appear that Hatch had to try very hard to secure that robust amount.

If Utah residents were the people contributing to Hatch’s campaign, there would be a chance that his nearly four-decade reign of power might end. But with such a huge national Wall Street financial power base, Hatch has easily defeated all opponents for the past 30 years. He could well remain in office another 30 years, but the 78-year-old senator claims this will be his final term in office.

Hatch is Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, a position that places him third in line to the presidency. But how does a Mormon kid from Pittsburgh, with a nice singing voice wind up becoming one of the most influential men in Washington?

Orrin Hatch was a scrappy bantamweight boxer as a kid. Bright and hard working, he learned the craft of metal lathing from his father. But Orrin wasn’t destined to be a laborer. He was a charmer— likeable, friendly and a good Mormon boy. He eschews alcohol and tobacco, and when aroused to anger uses “darn!” extensively. And for this Boy Scout image, Hatch sees himself as a real-life Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. A true “citizen Senator,” as he refers to himself in his memoir.

But Hatch has been far too normal to make any difference in Washington. Normal in Washington means to “help your constituents,” but in political doublespeak means attending town hall meetings on occasion, shaking lots of hands, and helping those who got you elected become wealthier so they contribute ever more to your campaign the next time around.

For the past 39 years, those who helped Orrin most have received the most help. Nothing out of the ordinary, but due to this kind of political puppeteering on such a large scale, the world is what it is, rather than the way it should be. It’s a government operated largely by mega corporations and Wall Street influence. Hatch’s greatest contribution to Utah’s economy has been  keeping Federal regulation out of Utah’s health supplement industry.

Over the years Hatch became so close to his health supplement lobbyist friends that he was able to help his son Scott become one of the industry’s leading lobbyists. But according to Orrin, his son never lobbies him. Orrin himself is a health fanatic, exercising every morning for at least an hour. He takes a lot of vitamins and supplements. But as are many long-term Senate incumbents, Hatch is a puppet moving and acting for those who keep him in power.

Hatch has maintained the appearance of a man who pulls his own strings. He became good friends with Ted Kennedy and drafted legislation on a crime bill that brought an onslaught of fire from gun rights advocates. Hatch’s voting record runs completely contrary to Tea Party (conservative) Republican ideals.

Hatch voted for TARP (the Wall Street bank bailout program). He voted for SCHIP, which gave the federal government more control over children’s health care. He voted for Medicaid Part D, which put even more control of medical care under the government and helped to usher in the viability of ObamaCare. Hatch is not a limited government conservative, except when it comes to regulation of the supplement industry.

Few realize health supplements earn more money in Utah than the state’s world-renowned ski tourism industry.

Thanks to Orrin Hatch, Xango—purveyors of the blueberry-mangosteen-cactus drink—is able to market its product using outrageous, unproven anti-aging claims. Xango representatives operate in a pyramid scheme to sell to their gullible neighbors longevity and good health, who in turn sell to their gullible neighbors, and the health supplement pyramids rise in Utah ever taller. Hatch has received huge contributions from his buddies at several other supplement companies, including Nu-Skin, Weider, 4-Life Research and Neways, to name just a few.

The great benefit the businesses have received for keeping Hatch in power is that supplements need not undergo the rigorous government testing or regulation drugs must undergo. While this has certainly been a boon to Utah’s economy, it begs the question: Has this helped consumers? The New York Times has reported:

“Just in the last two years, 2,292 serious illnesses, including 33 that were fatal, were reported by consumers of supposedly harmless nutritional supplements, federal records show. (These “severe adverse reaction” reports do not necessarily mean the supplements caused the illnesses, just that the consumers became ill after taking them.)”

Hatch’s most famous piece of legislation was the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). Hatch is celebrating the 21st year anniversary of this legislation on his website. Since the bill’s passage, the dietary supplements industry has realized an average annual growth of 7.5 percent. In Utah alone supplements are a $7 billion industry. To demonstrate what is allowed under this bill, let’s examine a recent claim by Young Living Oils.

Young Living representatives claim that frankincense, a rare and expensive essential oil, can cure cancer. Of course it can. It was given to Jesus by the wise men, and these wise men knew Jesus might get cancer from all of the stress he would need to endure unless he used the oil.

Of course frankincense has never been proven to cure cancer, and anyone who put a lot of the oil on or in their body in excessive quantities could suffer harmful side effects; but this is all okay because they make lots and lots of money. The essential oil companies in Utah who make such claims, like Young Living oils and to a lesser degree DoTERRA, have made millions, in large part thanks to Orrin Hatch working for them to keep the federal government out of Big Supplements.

We like to demonize Big-Pharma, but at least when their drugs have harmful side effects, the public is informed. Not so for Big Supplements. There are certainly harmful side effects to ingesting essential oils and other steroid-type supplements, but reps can say and claim anything they want without the government cracking down. But that may be changing, and when Orrin Hatch finally retires his seat, Utah’s huge supplement-business based economy could be in trouble.All of this contains more than a bit of irony. Hatch is a teetotaller who very much supports the war on drugs. And is very much opposed to the legalization of marijuana.

Hatch is now the most senior Republican Senator in Congress. Hatch was elected with the promise to minimize his own tenure in the Senate. He realized before entering office that long tenures produce corrupt politicians. When Hatch ran against and successfully unseated incumbent Frank Moss in 1976, he said, “What do you call a Senator who’s served in office for 18 years? You call him home.”

The Bigger Picture

It’s worth analyzing the political career of Orrin Hatch, not to demonize him or perceive him as a bad guy. In fact, compared with other political leaders, he is indeed a Boy Scout: no sex scandals, no evidence of bribery. Even the liberal New York Times praised Hatch’s memoir Square Peg: Confessions of a citizen senator. The problem with Orrin Hatch is that he clearly represents precisely what Abraham Lincoln feared would happen if special interest powers took over control of our government: Lincoln said:

Corporations have been enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow. The money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until the wealth is aggregated in the hands of a few, and the Republic is destroyed.

Slowly, as our government shifts from a Democratic Republic to a Corporate Plutocracy, wealth is being aggregated into the hands of the few. Good jobs through true wealth creation for lower and middle class families are becoming more scarce. This is why this economic recovery has been so slow and the jobs being created are mostly low-paid, low-skill jobs. It’s because a larger percentage of the new job creation is coming from Wall Street corporations rather than small local businesses.

As our Congress gives more power to Wall Street and mega corporations, wealth creation by average citizens and small business owners becomes less viable. The number of “favors” Wall Street corporations receives from federal, state and local governments exacerbates the growing plutocracy.

Get Involved

Utah Stories is seeking the assistance of our readers to conduct further following-the-money investigations. These investigations are time consuming and costly, but very much needed. Rarely do news organizations invest in long-term investigative journalism, and Utah Stories would like to help return the power back to the people by holding our political leaders more accountable.

Donate $25 and receive a Utah Stories t-shirt. Donate $50 and receive a t-shirt and a free copy of our book on Utah small towns. Donate $100 and we will host you at our office for a luncheon. We do not need to idly sit back and watch as the power in this country shifts further into the hands of Wall Street and megacorporations. Working together, we can make a difference.


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