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Washington • A political action committee with the power to accept unlimited cash from wealthy donors has sprung up to defend Sen. Orrin Hatch.
Kelly Casaday, a Utah advertising executive, announced the creation of Strong Utah PAC on Wednesday, which will combat charges from tea party-related groups like FreedomWorks that have vowed to defeat the senator in 2012.
"If outside groups come in and try to influence the election, I'll be here to make sure that Utah views are also known," said Casaday. "I know the senator. I appreciate the good work he has done."
Strong Utah PAC has no money yet, said Casaday, but it's organized under the new "super PAC" laws that allow companies, individuals and unions to give unlimited donations, as long as the PAC does not coordinate with Hatch's campaign.
Dave Hansen, Hatch's long-time campaign manager, says he knows Casady personally but has no knowledge of his plans for the new PAC.
"You take support where you can get it, and we welcome people who want to support and make sure the senator gets re-elected," he said.
Hatch has $3 million in the bank and a campaign staff of more than 20 people. What he doesn't have is an announced challenger.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, considered and ultimately decided against a Senate run. The most likely Republican challengers are state Sen. Dan Liljenquist or tea party leader David Kirkham.
Either one of those candidates would likely get the support of FreedomWorks, which has lambasted Hatch's 35-year Senate career, saying he has too often supported bills that increased the size of government and the debt.The Hatch campaign has responded by calling the group's leader, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, hypocritical since he voted for some of the same bills that FreedomWorks criticizes Hatch for.
The Hatch camp has repeatedly labeled FreedomWorks an out-of-state group trying to meddle in Utah's affairs, while FreedomWorks says it was invited by Utah tea party activists and is only supporting local effort to unseat Hatch.
Casaday clearly sees FreedomWorks as a group of outsiders, saying it offended him to see "groups like FreedomWorks coming in from D.C. trying to tell Utahns how to run things."
Casaday is an executive at Letter23, a Salt Lake City-based advertising firm that has worked for political campaigns but has never produced ads for Hatch.
FreedomWorks recently created its own super PAC, and similar political organizations are supporting presidential candidates from former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman to President Barack Obama. A few have collected single donations as large as $2 million. A super PAC created to help Mitt Romney's run for the GOP nomination collected two $1 million donations from the leaders of Nu Skin.