You know the story: after surviving the Keating Five scandal, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) vowed to be incorruptible. Sure, he surrounds himself with lobbyists, but that is only to test his vigilance.
The New York Times tests the limits of McCain’s vigilance in a piece today about McCain’s decades-old ties to a wealthy Arizonan developer named Donald Diamond.
The main thrust is this: on a number of key occasions, McCain played a key role in helping Diamond, a major campaign contributor, make deals that made him millions of dollars. The piece focuses on three deals in particular: two of those involved bills (in 1991 and 1994) co-sponsored by McCain that swapped public land for Diamond’s land, and the other involved McCain doing a couple personal favors in order to help Diamond land an incredibly lucrative piece of land owned by the Army. In each of those cases, Diamond was able to secure the assistance of other members of the Arizona delegation, and it’s crystal clear from the piece that Diamond knows how to work his lawmakers.
Part of what makes the piece so amusing is that while the McCain camp was obviously keen to minimize McCain’s assistance — pointing out, for example, that McCain refused a number of Diamond’s requests — Diamond doesn’t seem to have much patience for pussyfooting. For example:
Mr. Diamond is close to most of Arizona’s Congressional delegation and is candid about his expectations as a fund-raiser. “I want my money back, for Christ’s sake. Do you know how many cocktail parties I have to go to?”
To raise money for Mr. McCain, Mr. Diamond invites local Republicans to make fund-raising calls from his Tucson office. Ray Carroll, a member of the council that controls zoning in Pima County, Ariz., said Mr. Diamond followed up on one fund-raising session with a thank-you note “on behalf of Mr. McCain,” sending a copy to the senator.
“To reciprocate, if you need any zoning in the county, let me know,” Mr. Diamond wrote. (Mr. Diamond said it was the kind of joke he often made.)
The most delicate of the three transactions for the McCain camp is undoubtedly the Army deal: an old base in Monterey County, California called Fort Ord. Helped along by a meeting with an Army official set up by a McCain aide, Diamond got the inside track on the land, which ultimately made him a $20 million profit. McCain had also written a letter to the city of Seaside, California, enthusiastically recommending Diamond, who was making a bid to buy Fort Ord’s two golf courses that had been acquired by the city.
Sound like some pretty special treatment for a multi-millionaire campaign contributor? Not so, says the McCain camp. Any average Joe Arizonan making a bid for a luxury resort in another state would be sure to get the senator’s assistance:
A spokeswoman for Mr. McCain, Jill Hazelbaker, said the senator, now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, “had done nothing for Mr. Diamond that he would not do for any other Arizona citizen.”…
For the California projects, the campaign said the McCain aide arranged the introduction to an Army official for Mr. Diamond’s team as “a constituent matter.” The campaign said it had no knowledge of the aide helping to expedite the sale.
In Mr. Diamond’s other project at Ford Ord, the campaign initially said that the senator “would not have issued” the letter vouching for Mr. Diamond “if he knew at the time it would be used to favor any particular party in the course of a pending competition.” Later, the campaign described the letter as “a character reference” and said it was included only at a “pre-competition” stage in the selection process. The campaign also noted that two other members of the Arizona Congressional delegation provided similar letters.
And Diamond, typically, doesn’t see why there would be any fuss:
Mr. Diamond, for his part, said Mr. McCain had only done his job. “I think that is what Congress people are supposed to do for constituents,” he said. “When you have a big, significant businessman like myself, why wouldn’t you want to help move things along? What else would they do? They waste so much time with legislation.”