The Pampered Politician

Arizona Senator John McCain is ready for a presidential run — if the national press corps has anything to say about it

Someday, some enterprising Capitol reporter is going to come to Arizona--or, for that matter, plug McCain's name into a database like Lexis/Nexis--and strike it rich, discovering the "secret" life of John McCain. Amply detailed in his home-state newspapers, including this one, is a trail of McCain embarrassments that range from nasty to downright sleazy.

Today, Keating warrants just a sentence or two from the typical McCain media biographer. McCain has carefully cast himself as the scapegoat, the lone Republican who quickly extricated himself from Keating when possible wrongdoing was exposed.

In reality, many of McCain's untoward activities with Keating took place during his years in the House of Representatives, and therefore had escaped Senate scrutiny. Because he was no longer a congressman at the time of the controversy, and the U.S. House never investigated his ties to Keating, McCain's indiscretions have been forgotten or ignored in the press.

And although McCain was among the first to cut ties to Keating, his connections to the banker arguably ran deeper than those of any other member of the Keating Five.

In the mid-1980s, Keating took McCain on at least nine trips--often with McCain's wife, daughter and baby sitter--including three jaunts to Keating's retreat in the Bahamas.

McCain later reimbursed Keating for the trips, but only after the controversy was revealed in the press.

In 1986, Cindy McCain and her father, Jim Hensley, invested more than $350,000 in a Keating-owned shopping center reported to be a tax shelter.

Between 1982 and 1988, McCain received more than $100,000 in campaign contributions from Keating, for whom he went to bat in the Senate. McCain returned the money, but back then it appeared he would be forever tainted, with regard to campaign-finance issues.

McCain voted against campaign-finance-reform legislation in 1987 and 1988, but in 1990 began to support it.

Today, of course, campaign-finance reform is McCain's raison d'etre. Journalists never fail to mention that, but what they seldom note is that it's highly unlikely that such legislation will pass in John McCain's political lifetime.

Roll Call's Scheffner says, "The amount of attention that his campaign-finance-reform bill has gotten is probably greatly out of proportion in terms of its actual chances of passage."

Last Saturday, McCain held what has widely been hailed as Arizona's most successful political fund raiser--ever. With an estimated net haul of more than $500,000, McCain demonstrated, ironically, that his proposed legislation wouldn't hurt a powerhouse like himself from raising boatloads of cash.

The fund raiser conformed to the rules of McCain-Feingold, one McCain insider reports; only a limited amount--less than 30 percent--could come from political action committees.

The event took place outside McCain's north central Phoenix manse, and risked being canceled because of a dust storm. But McCain weathered another Desert Storm. The rain and dust stopped just in time for dinner and a keynote speech by Tennessee Republican Senator Fred Thompson, who had flown in just for the event.

Thompson, usually a vocal supporter of McCain's campaign-finance-reform efforts, spoke hardly a word of such matters to those assembled, who had paid $1,000 each for tickets to the event.

Besides the ironies of the Keating affair and McCain's jaded efforts at campaign-finance reform, a plethora of other indiscretions has gone virtually unacknowledged or has been given short shrift by the national press.

McCain is constantly praised for his quest to reduce pork-barreling. But no one has bothered to investigate his actions with regard to a bill that no doubt benefited not merely his state, but himself and his family.

In 1991, at a time when McCain and his wife owned more than $1 million worth of stock in Hensley and Company, her father's Anheuser-Busch distributorship, the Senate Commerce Committee continually refused to consider beverage-container recycling legislation, according to the legislation's sponsor, Senator Mark Hatfield, Republican of Oregon. The legislation was strongly opposed by the beverage industry, including Anheuser-Busch.

Outside Arizona, no publication has bothered to detail McCain's duplicitous nature with regard to environmental policy. The League of Conservation Voters has consistently ranked McCain at the bottom of its list of environmentally friendly lawmakers. In 1996, he voted antienvironment on issues ranging from endangered species to nuclear waste storage to funding environmental programs. Yet McCain had the audacity to write--and the New York Times op-ed page the lack of judgment to print--an op-ed piece decrying antienvironmentalism.

For years McCain consistently opposed gay rights, and even spoke at a fund raiser in Oregon held in support of that state's antigay-rights initiative. When he was named honorary dinner co-chair at Arizona's Community AIDS Council Second Annual AIDS Recognition Awards Dinner in 1994, local U Report columnist David Van Virden ranted against the hypocrisy of McCain's sudden change of heart: ". . . people behave consistently. John McCain is a political opportunist. He's used every situation to his advantage as long as we've known him. Everything since his incarceration as a POW has been used to further his career. . . ." Outside the state, nobody picked up on the story.

While Washington, D.C., journalists find McCain's anger endearing, some Arizonans aren't as forgiving.

Sandra Dowling, Maricopa County superintendent of public schools, recently told New Times she's still smarting over her encounter with McCain at the 1994 state Republican convention. When she made the mistake of catching the senator's eye, she had recalled for New Times ("Statesman or Henchman," March 23, 1994), he lashed out at her for her support of Barbara Barrett, who had announced that she would challenge McCain ally Governor J. Fife Symington III that fall.

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