. . . February, 1998 -- McCain Fundraiser Opens Dialogue

. . . USATA/Bassett attended a private dinner/fundraiser in Washington for Senator McCain. This was made possible by political contributions from a number of key USATA members. McCain and Bassett spoke on three occasions with the Senator acknowledging the value of the air tour industry and being genuinely appreciate [sic] of USATA's participation at the event. Later in the spring, air tour operators in Arizona and Nevada attended another fundraiser for Senator McCain in Arizona to reinforce the fact that the industry was willing to support him under the right conditions. . . .

An analysis of McCain's campaign filings for his 1998 Senate and current presidential campaign reveals that USATA members have donated at least $6,250 to McCain, with $2,500 of it coming from Elling Halvorson and his daughter, Brenda.

"We've given to, I think, all the people who have been running, at least anyone who is halfway friendly toward our point of view or will listen to us. I think that's pretty typical," Elling Halvorson says in a phone interview from Seattle, where his company is headquartered.

Reached in Las Vegas last week, Steve Bassett says it took more than money to get McCain to negotiate.

"It took us a long time to get him to the point where he'd meet with us, and I don't mean a couple weeks," Bassett says. ". . . It has taken years to do that. And people. It took new people, it took people he could trust, to try and work with him. But over time, I think the man trusts us. I think he understands we really have been willing over the last five or 10 years to find the middle ground. . . . He didn't abandon his environmental friends. He never did that. He just said, 'These guys are willing to come to the middle. I expect you, the environmental community, to do the same thing.'"

On the phone, Bassett is less ebullient than he was on the Internet about the possible influence his group's contributions had on the senator.

"If anything it [contributions] gave us the opportunity for him to know who we were," he says. "And it didn't do any more than that, and you never never expect a political contribution to do any more than that. We're not a huge industry or a huge corporation. We're not going to have any influence at all with political donations. None whatsoever. . . . We amount to nothing in comparison to others, I'm sure, who are donating to all of them.

"But what it does do is it lets him know, number one, we are willing to support. And somebody's got to take the first step in that. And it gives us the opportunity to be recognizable to him so that when we do ask for a meeting, as long as we continue to play fair, then the man met with us and has played fair with us. And we never wanted any more than that from him, and certainly we're not big enough that we could get any more. . . . I ain't Microsoft."

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