They talk about cutting federal spending.
They talk about balancing the federal budget.They talk about their experience as top businessmen.
But three millionaire members of Congress from Utah run campaigns that are among the most deeply in debt of any in the nation. (Of course, the debt is usually owed to themselves for dipping into their pockets to finance their races).
That's according to comparative statistics released this week by the Federal Election Commission.
For example, guess which of all the 919 House candidates now in the nation has the biggest campaign debt?
And the winner is . . . Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah.
His campaign debt was $1,674,810 at the end of 1997 - about twice as much as the second-biggest debt in the nation - $841,709 by Rep. Max Sandlin, D-Texas.
Of course, most of that debt to himself was amassed during his 1996 campaign. Wealthy candidates often loan money to their campaigns - instead of donating it - in hopes they can raise enough afterward to reimburse themselves at least partially.
But Cannon didn't repay anything last year - and instead went further in the hole (even though it was a non-election year).
He personally loaned his campaign another $156,250 (or $23,000 more than the $133,600 congressional salary he was paid that year).
His loan was also more than the $50,670 in donations he received from individuals or the $131,304 in donations he received from special-interest political action committees.
Meanwhile, Cannon spent $276,224 in 1997. That means the opponent of federal deficit spending himself spent about $94,000 more than he raised last year (not counting loans from his own pocket).
Next, guess who has the biggest campaign debt among incumbent senators facing a new election?
And the winner is . . . Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah.
He has a debt to himself of $1.83 million, mostly from his first and only previous race in 1992.
Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah, the third millionaire in Utah's delegation, ended up with a debt listed at $193,362 - 23rd largest among all 919 House candidates.
That didn't come from money Cook gave himself, however. (He donated, not loaned, more than $800,000 for his race last year, meaning it was not a debt and is not reimbursable.)
Most of the debt listed now comes from a disputed $179,362 bill by his former campaign manager, R.T. Nielson. Cook says he owes Nielson only $5,783 of that amount. He says the rest is not supported by his contract nor invoices submitted. Nielson has sued for payment, however.
Utah Republicans aren't the only ones on the big debtor lists. Democrat Steve Beierlein, a Smith Barney investment portfolio manager who is running against Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, had a debt listed at $61,178, coming mostly from his own pocket.
That's the 15th largest debt among challengers facing incumbents. He also raised only $18,600 in contributions (not counting money from his own pocket) but spent $61,835.
Why are so many candidates from Utah big debtors? In short, Utahns get what they pay for politically.
Utahns are notorious for not donating much to campaigns. In fact, as the Deseret News reported recently, just two men gave a fifth of all donations from the state's 2 million residents in 1995-96: businessmen Ian Cumming and John Price.
Price, who has helped raise money for national Republican candidates, conjectures that may be because they give much to their churches or other charities. "I believe they feel when they give their (church) tithing, that takes care of all their obligations."
Whatever the reason, few Utah candidates can expect to finance their campaigns solely on donations from fellow Utahns. So they seek outside help. Or if they are rich enough, they simply loan or donate themselves the money.
In other words, until things change, Utahns will elect people who are either very wealthy or financially dependent on non-Utahns.
In a sense then, Utahns are political debtors, too - just like most of their representatives.