Saving Private Interests

John McCain says he wants to save Spur Cross Ranch. Has he really gone Green, or is he just scrounging for greenbacks from a Cincinnati fat cat?

"I'm sick at heart, and I know that he is, that a very early preliminary draft got out there," Gullett says. And perhaps she should be, since the draft legislation went out with a cover letter from her.

"Several people have made comment about the fact that the legislation would circumvent the NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] process. That would never happen. John McCain would never support legislation that would say that we won't apply the environmental laws of the land to this process."

But that's exactly what McCain did with Mount Graham. And until the legislation is signed into law, no one knows if it's what he'll do this time, too. A July 27 letter to a local Audubon Society official from one of the Spur Cross owners' consultants mentions the possibility of an exemption for the project from environmental impact laws--even though days before, the same consultants assured the Scottsdale City Council that no exemptions would apply.

In the case of Mount Graham, McCain ignored recommendations by the U.S. Forest Service.

This time, it is apparent McCain is again ignoring the Forest Service's recommendations. In a July 10 letter to Scottsdale Mayor Sam Campana, Regional Forester Eleanor Towns expressed concern regarding almost every facet of the proposed trade. Internal Forest Service documents indicate that the department's officials have repeatedly asked McCain to reconsider his support of the legislation.

But McCain is seeking only the support of the affected municipalities.
Given the environmental community's rejection of McCain's foray into conservation, it's become obvious that the Spur Cross deal won't succeed at winning him much support from a green-leaning populace, after all. Yet McCain continues his crusade.

What may be propelling him now is anyone's guess, but a clue is on the tip of Deb Gullett's tongue at the Scottsdale meeting after Councilwoman Mary Manross asks why the Spur Cross legislation has to pass this year.

The question throws Gullett. She sputters, "Um. That is a timetable that--I cannot answer that." Then she puzzlingly adds, "That is a question that the developer's representatives need to answer."

Gullett has just said a mouthful. To understand her answer, you have to keep your eye on the presidential hopes of our state's senior senator.

As it happens, developer John Lang and Westplex, the land exchange consulting firm he's hired to facilitate the trade, are calling the shots with regard to the Spur Cross land deal--not Senator John McCain. Westplex consultants authored the draft legislation. John Lang has made it clear he wants the legislation passed, has promised that if it doesn't pass this session, he will begin building on Spur Cross Ranch.

Lang's threat may or may not hold water. He and the owners of Spur Cross must first resolve their litigation with Cave Creek. Lang says he's confident it won't be a problem, but if the town decides to balk, the land could be tied up in court for years.

McCain and Gullett surely know this. So why, as Councilwoman Manross asked, are they so gung-ho to push this legislation through? If all McCain wanted was to appear green, he would happily wait until the outstanding issues were resolved.

It's very possible he wants to push it through because he believes it's the right thing to do, and that he wants it done swiftly because that's what he feels his constituents want. Or maybe he takes John Lang's threats seriously and just doesn't want to risk losing Spur Cross Ranch to the bulldozers.

It's also possible that the reason for his haste is a different shade of green. With his run for the presidency unofficially under way, McCain could use some dough. A fat cat who digs deep for politicians, the kind of chap who owns Spur Cross Ranch, could be an appealing connection for the senator about now.

Some background. When it comes to winning the hearts and minds of politicians with greenbacks, the guy most Americans think of is McCain's famous old friend and fellow Bahamian beach bum, Charlie Keating. But Charlie Keating had a tutor. Shortly before he left Ohio in the '70s to meet his fate in Arizona, Keating worked for and studied at the feet of Carl Lindner, the majority owner of Spur Cross Ranch.

Lindner is one of the most powerful businessmen in the world. He regularly makes the Forbes 400 list, which last year estimated his wealth at $665 million. And he spends a lot of it on politicians. Common Cause magazine dubbed him a member of its "country club" of campaign donors. Lindner ranks 55th on the Mother Jones 400 list of top contributors to political parties and candidates for office during the 1995-96 campaign cycle.

Carl Lindner isn't the only one with his checkbook out. His brothers also made the MoJo 400: Robert, president of United Dairy Farmers, ranked 130th. Richard, CEO of Relco Resources, an investment and real estate company, was listed at 288.

Since 1992, the Lindner family, its companies and their employees have given the Democratic and Republican parties more than $1 million apiece. Carl Lindner is a registered Republican--Bob Dole even used one of his planes during the 1996 presidential campaign--but he has friends on both sides of the aisle. His generosity has earned Lindner a night in Bill Clinton's Lincoln Bedroom and invites to those now-infamous White House coffees.

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