Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, uses understatement to say, "I've had better weeks."
Since he disclosed he wrote 93 overdrafts at the scandal-closed House bank, he has been fiercely attacked daily by rival Senate candidates. Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, joined in, saying Owens just missed being declared an official abuser of the bank.On top of that, the National Taxpayers Union this week said Owens ranked ninth worst in Congress for the amount of free mail he franks at taxpayer expense. Then the press disclosed that he paid his property taxes late in the early 1980s (see story on B5).
While frazzled, Owens is still optimistic he can overcome attacks on admitted sloppiness in personal finances to win the Senate seat being given up by retiring Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah - even though signs are that criticism may not end soon.
"In the short term, it's been a sensation in the Utah press," he said Wednesday. "No doubt I will drop some in the polls."
But he adds, "I hope in the end that voters will base their decision on what I have accomplished and the entirety of my record and that they will get beyond what has happened the past week."
Owens said while the week has been painful, "My skin has thickened over the years as I have seen such things come and go. But I'm anxious to see it get over.
"That's why I put so much on the record. None of it (regarding check overdrafts) would have been known if I had not voluntarily given it out. The public is entitled to know about it. But I'm anxious to move onto other things."
The House, of course, did vote to fully disclose all information the House has about check overdrafts, but that information has not yet been released except by those who chose to reveal their own information early.
Comments from his political rivals suggest that the flap may not soon be over, despite what Owens wishes.
For example, Democratic Senate candidate Doug Anderson has called for Owens to disclose to whom his overdrafts were written, saying that is necessary to prove he is not among those House members who allegedly used overdrafts covered by the bank to give their campaigns interest-free loans.
Owens denies any such action and, as proof, points to the fact he has never lacked for campaign money. But he has refused to reveal to whom he wrote the overdrafted checks, saying he wants to maintain some privacy in his public life. As long as he does not disclose them, Anderson could keep attacking.
Anderson also has challenged Owens to disclose his income tax records and pledged to do the same if he does. Little chance exists that Owens will. In recent years, he has repeatedly refused to reveal anything beyond what is in financial disclosure forms required by the House, again saying he wants some privacy.
Those forms - which are fairly vague and require reporting income and debts only in broad categories - have suggested Owens' personal finances are on shaky ground and may have been propped up by his friends.
For example, his last financial disclosure form (for 1990) said the amounts he owed on loans and business deals ranged from $110,005 to $300,000 - while his assets were listed at a lower range: $52,003 to $130,000, not counting his home or cars. Still, Owens said he has a positive net worth.
Forms showed Owens also made ends meet in 1990 with the help of friends. For example, he was paid $12,000 for giving speeches to companies controlled by his friend Ian Cumming. He was paid another $12,000 from former business partners for commercial real estate consulting.
And Owens also carried a loan of between $15,001 and $50,000 from his friend S. Daniel Abraham, a Jewish businessman who has traveled extensively with Owens in the Middle East and who formed a Middle East think tank with him.
And beyond those forms, Owens made headlines in 1990 when he was sued for default on $91,142 remaining on a Zions Bank loan. He settled it quickly and worked out a repayment schedule.
While Owens has denied any pressing financial problems, Anderson and others could keep attacking him in that area until he discloses his full income tax records.
Republican Ted Stewart also noticed Owens said he knew since late last year he had written dozens of overdrafts, but his press secretary told the press as late as last month that Owens figured he had only "four or five." The press secretary said he based that on his boss's public statements, which he never updated.
So Stewart charged that Owens allowed his staff to mislead the public for months. That may be too good an issue for Stewart to let go anytime soon.