Which is worse in the eyes of staunch Republicans: Smoking marijuana as a youth or giving money to Democratic Rep. Wayne Owens as an adult? Republican Senate candidate Joe Cannon - who happened to do both - is afraid that giving money to Owens is seen as much worse by party faithful, even though it resulted in smaller headlines.

"They resent that much more than the fact I tried marijuana once in college. That (drug incident) was an indiscretion of youth. Giving to Wayne Owens is seen by some as a traitorous act," Cannon recently told the Deseret News.The Deseret News reported recently that Cannon had donated to Owens and other Democrats when he violated federal election law last year by exceeding the limit on how much he could legally give to federal candidates and party organizations.

He donated $32,750 total - $7,750 over the legal limit of $25,000. Documents showed $4,500 of it went to Democrats (including $1,500 to Owens), and the rest went to Republicans.

Cannon said the violation was inadvertent because he didn't realize such a limit existed until told by the Deseret News. He notified the Federal Election Commission of the problem and sought refunds or reclassification of some donations to bring him back under the limit.

Cannon said polls and meetings statewide show that his main weakness with older, conservative Republicans - those most likely to be state convention delegates - was the donations he made to Democrats. To his relief, they generally do not seem to be too upset that he once took a puff of marijuana.

That all could still complicate his chances of getting through the convention, which will be full of the most staunch Republicans most likely to frown on their potential Senate nominee having helped re-elect arch-enemy Owens last year.

If they give 70 percent of their votes to one candidate, he or she becomes the nominee. Otherwise, they narrow the field to two candidates, who face each other in a primary election.

Polls show Cannon can do well in a primary or general election - but he must get through the convention first, and he hopes his explanations about the donations are sufficient to do that.

Cannon - the former president of Geneva Steel - said he gave to Owens because he spearheaded legislation in Congress needed to help keep Geneva competitive against foreign steel producers. Owens even featured that in his campaign ads.

But Cannon also gave a combined $4,000 to Republicans Genevieve Atwood and Dan Marriott, who ran against Owens.

Cannon said his position as president of Geneva Steel "caused me to be friendly with many Democrats who were good to Geneva." He said donations he made were seen as reflecting Geneva, whether he liked it or not.

That helps explain why Cannon also gave $1,000 each to Reps. John P. Murtha, D-Pa., and Marty Russo, D-Ill., who are members of the Congressional Steel Caucus.

Cannon said he also spent $1,000 to attend a Salt Lake fund-raiser for Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J. He said that was a return favor to Democratic entrepreneur Ian Cumming, who had earlier attended a similar Republican dinner at Cannon's request. Cannon said he had nothing to do with the fact that Bradley chairs a committee that oversees clean-air legislation.

Cannon added, "We do give a lot to political causes. My problem is I can't say no to someone. They call up and ask for money, say they're broke and the election is two weeks away. I give. What would you do if you were in my position?"

Many businessmen have donated just as Cannon did. For them, Cannon's campaign may show whether such bipartisan giving might doom their political futures - just as many worried that marijuana use could disqualify most in the baby-boomer generation.