Maybe Utahns should adopt a new motto: "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."
After all, if banks forgave them as much as Utahns forgive their politicians for having big debts, their mortgages and car payments would be wiped clean (or at least not counted on applications for more credit).New statistics from the Federal Election Commission show several Utah politicians again lead the nation in campaign debt. But it doesn't hurt them. In fact, it helped elect them - and appears to be helping them retain office again this year.
First prize for the nation's largest continuing campaign debt among the 1,343 candidates in the country for U.S. House seats goes to . . . Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah.
That debt was $1,665,349 at the end of March - or twice as much as the second-place debt nationally of $800,000 by New Jersey Democratic House candidate Carl J. Mayer.
Most of Cannon's debt was amassed during his first campaign two years ago, when he spent $1.45 million out of his own pocket. He classified that money as loans so he could repay himself from donations that he might attract later.
But instead of paying himself back, he's gone further in debt this election cycle.
He even managed to spend $329,457 on his campaign so far this cycle - the most of any House candidate in Utah (and almost three times as much as second-place spender Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah).
That wouldn't be so bad if Cook had a contested race. But the Democrats didn't even field a candidate against him. How much would multimillionaire Cannon be spending if he had any real competition?
Even though Cannon has the largest debt of all U.S. House candidates in the nation, he still doesn't have the biggest debt among Utah's members of Congress.
That honor goes to Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, whose campaign debt now is $1,842,346 (the fifth highest among the nation's 166 Senate candidates this year, and the highest among incumbents seeking re-election).
He also amassed most of that when he first ran six years ago. But since he was elected, FEC data shows he put in $626,000 of his own money into campaign funds.
That has helped Bennett's campaign spend $507,139 in 1997 and 1998 - or 57 times more than his Democratic opponent, Scott Leck-man, has managed to spend (and Leckman had to provide $7,471 of the $8,910 he's spent out of his own pocket, too).
The third big debtor in the delegation is Cook - whose campaign lists a disputed debt of $193,362 (30th largest among the nation's 1,343 House candidates, and 12th highest among incumbents).
Cook's former campaign manager, R.T. Nielson, claims that Cook owes him $179,362 - or the lion's share of that debt - for unpaid expenses from his 1996 campaign. But Cook disputes that and says Nielson actually owes him $5,783.
Of course, Cook's debt could be much higher. He donated - not loaned - more than $800,000 of his own money to his campaign two years ago. Because it was a donation, it is not reimbursable and does not show up as a debt - as did similar self-support by Cannon and Bennett.
The debts don't seem to be hurting the three incumbents. Cannon is unopposed by Democrats. Bennett was ahead by 45 percentage points in a poll last month, and Cook was ahead by 10 points.
Meanwhile, voters nationally don't seem to be as forgiving of political debtors as Utahns - even when the debts owed are to candidates themselves.
For example, only 12 of the 50 candidates nationally (24 percent) who spent more than $100,000 of their own money on their races won two years ago.
Of course, two of them were in Utah (Cannon and Cook) - so Utahns supported 100 percent of the candidates that year who spent so much on themselves.
So if forgiveness (of debts) is divine, Utah must be the celestial kingdom - politically speaking, of course.