Friday, May 9, 2008

John McCain Takes Care of Another Patron

Arizona developer Steven A. Betts claims he never discussed a deal with Senator John McCain that turned 35,000 acres into a development project for an estimated 12,000 new homes to be built by his firm.
[Senator] John McCain championed legislation that will let an Arizona rancher trade remote grassland and ponderosa pine forest [in Prescott, AZ] for acres of valuable federally owned property that is ready for development, a land swap that now stands to directly benefit one of his top presidential campaign fundraisers.

Initially reluctant to support the swap, the Arizona Republican became a key figure in pushing the deal through Congress after the rancher and his partners hired lobbyists that included McCain's 1992 Senate campaign manager, two of his former Senate staff members (one of whom has returned as his chief of staff), and an Arizona insider who was a major McCain donor and is now bundling campaign checks.

When McCain's legislation passed in November 2005, the ranch owner gave the job of building as many as 12,000 homes to SunCor Development, a firm in Tempe, Ariz., run by Steven A. Betts, a longtime McCain supporter who has raised more than $100,000 for the presumptive Republican nominee. Betts said he and McCain never discussed the deal.

Steve Benen picks up the rest of the thread, and highlights some of McCain's other dealings with big money donors:
When considering John McCain’s history of unethical behavior, the list usually starts (and ends) with the Keating Five scandal in the 1980s, for which McCain was rebuked by the Senate Ethics Committee for having shown, at a minimum, poor judgment. While McCain took on the role of a “reformer” in the scandal’s aftermath, his ethical lapses have hardly disappeared.

The NYT noted a few weeks ago, for example, that McCain went to considerable lengths in 1999 to help one of his top campaign fundraisers buy the land at an Army base that was being closed. McCain helped his benefactor get the land — and special water rights — for just $250,000, which the donor then sold two years later for $30 million. (The donor, Donald Diamond, was rather candid about buying influence with politicians: “I want my money back, for Christ’s sake. Do you know how many cocktail parties I have to go to?”) It’s the kind of obvious influence peddling McCain swears he never gets involved with.

Today, the WaPo has a front-page item highlighting yet another real-estate controversy in which McCain helped out one of his most generous supporters.

When asked by the Washington Post about the timing of the land deals and of the campaign contributions that were made by the interested parties, the McCain Campaign issued a denial:
Question from the Washington Post: On several occasions, Sen. McCain worked on land exchange legislation that involved property in which campaign donors had a financial stake. Among them: A 1994 swap in the Las Vegas area involving the land Developer Del Webb Corp and its lobbyist; legislation in 1991 and 1994 regarding land swaps involving Donald R. Diamond; a trade proposed in 1997 involving the preservation of 2,250 acres of Sonoran desert that allowed for development in the Tonto National Forest, including land owned in part by Great American Life Insurance, the company run by Carl Lindner. How does Mr. McCain explain the close timing of campaign contributions to his efforts on those land exchange deals?

[McCain Campaign] RESPONSE: Rather than offer a single explanation describing the events leading up to Senator McCain’s legislative involvement in all the land deals to which you refer, we are willing to try to answer specific questions you may have on each. What can be said about all of them, without further specific questions, is that Senator McCain did absolutely nothing to help, improperly or inappropriately, any campaign donor on any land deal.

Regular readers will recall the case of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and note that, in certain circles, trading campaign contributions for favors is considered an indictable offense:

...Siegelman emerged as one of the few Democratic stars, winning the Governor's race in 1998. He lost the seat in a close and contested race in 2002, but polls in 2003 showed that he had a good chance of recapturing the governorship. Then came the first indictment from the U.S. Attorney in Birmingham, charging Siegelman with using his position to rig a state bidding process. A judge dismissed the case in 2004 for lack of evidence. Just as Siegelman was preparing to run for Governor again, a second round of charges was brought in 2005 by the U.S. Attorney's office in Montgomery. His trial in 2006 overlapped with Alabama's Democratic primary, in which Siegelman had initially been a heavy favorite.

The investigation into Siegelman began as an inquiry into a contract held by [Clayton Lamar (Lanny)] Young [Jr.] to build a state warehouse in Alabama. Young was a well-liked figure in Montgomery who, by his own account, was in the habit of handing out cash, checks, rides on his private airplane and other goodies to members of both political parties. In return, he apparently hoped to receive favorable treatment for his garbage dumps and other lucrative state-related business.

Young testified that he had furnished Siegelman with an all-terrain vehicle and a motorcycle, lavishing money on the Governor and his aides. But he was an equal-opportunity influence monger. Early in the investigation, in November 2001, Young announced that five years earlier, he "personally provided Sessions with cash campaign contributions," according to an FBI memo of the interview. Prosecutors didn't follow up that surprising statement with questions, but Young volunteered more. The memo adds that "on one occasion he [Young] provided Session [sic] with $5,000 to $7,000 using two intermediaries," one of whom held a senior position with Sessions' campaign. On another occasion, the FBI records show, Young talked about providing "$10,000 to $15,000 to Session [sic]. Young had his secretaries and friends write checks to the Sessions campaign and Young reimbursed the secretaries and friends for their contributions."

Further updates as necessary.

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