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Smith forked out $244,184 to pay campaign debts

Federal forms say others had funds left after election

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WASHINGTON — After he had already lost his U.S. House race, Republican Derek Smith paid nearly another quarter of a million dollars of his own money to retire campaign debts to others.

That essentially amounted to $244,184.35 worth of salt rubbed into his wounds after losing to Democrat Jim Matheson.

"There was a desire to have everything wrapped up, and to be done with it," he said, explaining why he provided the money on Dec. 15 to pay off campaign debts to others. He said a few more bills have trickled in since then.

With that after-election "loan" to his campaign, Smith spent a total of $1.2 million of his own money on his race. "It was a bit more than we planned," he said. It allowed him to defeat then-incumbent Merrill Cook, R-Utah, in the GOP primary, but he lost by a 56-41 percentage margin to Matheson.

That's according to year-end disclosure forms filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Forms show that while some losers such as Smith dug deep into their own pockets for last year's races, several winners not only did not have to do that but also had significant amounts left over in war chests that give them head starts on their next races.

Forms show that Smith's campaign spent a total of $1.68 million — and 71 percent of it came from loans out of his own pocket.

Meanwhile, Matheson's campaign spent $1.3 million — or $380,000 less than Smith. It ended up with cash on hand of $62,426 and no debts. That should give him a head start on his next campaign. Matheson spent $753 of his own money on the race.

Smith's $1.2 million in personal loans to his campaign will probably never be repaid, of course, because few people donate money to a candidate who has already lost. FEC figures show his campaign had the sixth-largest debt of any U.S. House candidate last year.

Of note, the campaign of Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, was listed as having the fifth-largest debt nationally — $1.67 million to himself — but almost all of that came from his first run for Congress in 1996.

After Cannon's 2000 campaign spent $336,427, it finished the year with a meager $3,906 in cash on hand — and unpaid bills of $2,751. (Cannon had provided $27,000 out of his own pocket to his campaign during the 1999-2000 election cycle).

While Democrat Donald Dunn lost to Cannon, his race ended up with no debts and $703 in the bank. Dunn actually outspent Cannon by a margin of $378,565 to $336,427. Dunn used $543 out of his own pocket for the race.

Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, ended the year with cash on hand of $147,087 and no debts. That's nearly double the $73,451 spent by his Democratic challenger last year, Kathleen McConkie Collinwood. (She also spent $51,580 out of her own pocket on the race, while Hansen had to spend none of his personal money.)

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, also ended the year with a huge amount in the bank: $621,340. That was more than twice the $295,982 than the campaign of his challenger, Scott Howell, spent on his race last year. (Howell also spent $94,324 out of his own pocket.)

E-MAIL: lee@desnews.com