Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah - the only Utah House member known to have bounced checks at the House bank - now says he had 20 to 30 overdrafts during the last year or so the scandal-closed bank operated.
Earlier, Owens - who is running for the Senate - said he remembered only four or five occasions when the bank called to notify him about overdrafts. "The trouble is, they didn't always call," Owens told the Deseret News.He acknowledges he may have bounced many more than those 20-30 checks over the full 39-month period that the House ethics committee recently investigated, but he said any overdrafts would be small "because I spent about what I was making - so I wasn't one of the big check bouncers."
Owens also pledged Thursday to publicly release, when available, some records about his
House bank account - but only for those months when overdrafts exceeded the amount of his next paycheck.
"I think that is adequate, full and fair," Owens said, adding he felt disclosure of all his bank records was unwarranted. It may also take months before such records are available, but he said he has requested them to be produced as soon as possible.
That action came as the House moved toward a possible vote Thursday or Friday on whether to disclose names of all the more than 300 current and former members who bounced any checks, or merely name the 24 worst offenders as recommended by the ethics committee.
The House bank - which was actually just an office to disburse pay checks to House members but also operated checking accounts for them - considered overdrafts as a draw or advance on their next paycheck.
It did not consider overdrafts as serious - or contact members about them - until they exceeded the take-home amount of the member'snext pay check.
"Don't call them bounced checks. They were overdrafts," Owens said. "They were overdrafts we knew we had protection for. But we didn't pay for that overdraft protection."
That is what has riled many members of the public, who view it as a special perk that House members gave themselves. No taxpayer money was at risk, however, only money deposited by members themselves.
Owens noted the House bank also did not pay interest. And he figures that during the last year of the House bank if he had put his money instead into an interest-bearing account in Utah, he would have made $127 - even after paying overdraft penalties.
The bounced-check flap also landed Owens on national TV twice on Thursday. He appeared on "Good Morning America," and had a taped interview with Sam Donaldson scheduled to appear Thursday evening on "Prime Time Live."
"I think that was because I was the first member of the House - according to Washington Post records - to admit having bounced a check," Owens said. "They seemed to be especially interested in whether I felt press coverage had been fair."
While Owens plans to disclose many of his own House bank records, he said he was leaning against voting to force similar disclosure of all check bouncers' accounts, "but I will wait for the debate before I decide."
He said he prefers the ethics committee plan to disclose only the 24 worst abusers, and then to voluntarily allow other members to request their own records, which they could then disclose if they choose.
Doug Anderson, who is running against Owens for the Democratic Senate nomination, has urged all Utah House members to vote for full disclosure. "This is a question of fairness, responsibility, honesty and leadership," he said in a press release. "Failure to disclose all the names is a failure in leadership and public trust."
Freshman Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, who never bounced a check at the bank that closed only a few months after he took office, said he plans to vote for full disclosure because he feels that is the only way for the House to put the scandal behind it.
Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, the ranking Republican on the House ethics committee - who also never had an overdraft - said he also originally fought for full disclosure. But in the committee, he voted for disclosing only the 24 worst offenders as the best compromise available there.
Hansen said he has been inundated by members worried about their careers in this scandal, and he is tired of many of them complaining that the bank never notified them of overdrafts.
"What's wrong, didn't they pass third-grade math and learn how to add and subtract?" he said.
According to ethics committee reports obtained by the press, some of the worst check bouncers kited checks for thousands of dollars for years.
The ethics committee plan would not require disclosure of all their names - including one member (identified so far only by a number code) who bounced 858 checks amounting to $215,285. His or her highest negative account balance was $57,555, and he or she had a negative account balance on 226 days during the 39 months audited.