Haunted by Spirits

John McCain derived his wealth from his marriage to Cindy Hensley McCain, whose father started his road to riches as a bootlegger. As a politician, the senator has remained beholden to the liquor industry and the family business

The company controls more than 60 percent of the beer market in Arizona, selling more than 20 million cases of Anheuser-Busch and other brands each year.

The privately held company remains controlled by chairman James Hensley, although he's relinquished day-to-day operations to Robert M. Delgado, who serves as president and chief operating officer.

Company records show that as of January 1996 James Hensley controlled through a trust 2,110 shares of stock, of which at least 1,655 shares were voting stock. Cindy McCain owned the largest block of stock with 7,436 shares, but only 177 shares were voting.

The McCains' central Phoenix house  --  Cindy's 
childhood home  --  is a fortress.
The McCains' central Phoenix house -- Cindy's childhood home -- is a fortress.
The boys off the bus: John McCain takes questions in 
Concord, New Hampshire.
Ilkka Uimonen
The boys off the bus: John McCain takes questions in Concord, New Hampshire.

Her three children, John, James and Meghan, each had 1,370 shares -- including 336 voting shares each -- held in trust. An adopted child, Bridget, had 600 non-voting shares.

The company placed a value for tax purposes of $1,467 per share on the stock in 1996, making Cindy McCain's stake in the company worth $11 million. The trusts for the four children are worth about $7 million. Delgado, meanwhile, controlled 4,572 shares of non-voting stock worth $6.7 million.

The Hensley & Company stock is only part of the McCain clan's wealth. According to Senator McCain's financial disclosure statement for calendar year 1998, Cindy McCain controls more than $1 million worth of Anheuser-Busch stock that generated between $15,000 and $50,000 in dividends. Cindy McCain and her children also report owning real estate in Mesa, Sedona and Yuma worth more than $2.5 million

The report indicates that despite receiving more than $1 million in dividends from Hensley & Company stock in 1998, Cindy McCain had 12 personal loans outstanding worth at least $1.24 million -- including a Bank One loan that exceeded $1 million and an American Express card tab between $15,000 and $50,000 running at 18.4 percent interest. Most of her loans were advances from the Hensley & Company.

While John McCain enjoys a posh lifestyle, the only asset he reports as personally owning, in addition to his $136,700 Senate salary, is his Navy retirement pension, which totaled $49,668 in 1998. The senator and his wife agreed to keep sole and separate property when they signed an antenuptial agreement in 1980 prior to their marriage.

Senator McCain's personal wealth is tied completely to his wife.

And Cindy McCain remains beholden to her father.

At the top sits James Willis Hensley.


In the late 1970s, John McCain was at a crossroads, both personally and professionally. His marriage to his first wife, Carol, was falling apart; the two were in the midst of a number of trial separations. And McCain, who would never fully recover from injuries he sustained in Vietnam, finally accepted the fact that he would never fly again. He liked his job as the Navy's liaison to the U.S. Senate, but it had done more to whet his appetite for politics than satisfy his career goals.

Then he met Cindy Lou Hensley. She was 25, he was 42. As Robert Timberg describes it in his book John McCain: An American Odyssey, the two were instantly smitten when they spotted one another at a political reception in Honolulu. McCain was there for business, Hensley for pleasure -- a vacation with her parents, James and Marguerite. They courted long-distance. She'd told him she was three years older than she was; he said he was four years younger. The real age difference: 17 years.

In his book, Timberg acknowledges -- then dismisses -- a popular theory explaining the McCain-Hensley romance:

"McCain's detractors, and some of his friends, would later say that he saw Cindy as the ultimate target of opportunity and locked on to her with single-minded, even cynical calculation. It was fine that she was young and beautiful, so it was said, but the real attraction was that she was the daughter of a rich, well-connected businessman from a state that seemed to offer opportunities to someone with McCain's emerging political ambitions.

"... The scenario is hard to take seriously. Was it even remotely possible that the impulsive, hot-blooded McCain who used to take his Navy pay in cash had suddenly been reborn as a gold-digging manipulator, coolly mapping out a marriage of convenience?"

Further, Timberg argues, McCain had to divorce Carol, who had been seriously injured in a car accident before John returned from the war, and who was still debilitated. What would that do to his political aspirations in a conservative state like Arizona?

But John did divorce Carol in February 1980, married Cindy that May and took a job in public affairs at Hensley & Company. John and Cindy could hardly survive on his $31,000 Navy pension, after all, and the marriage and job granted McCain instant entree into Arizona's business, social and political circles -- although insiders tell New Timesthat McCain was miserable in his new job, biding his time until he could run for office.

It didn't take long. McCain had banked on the fact that a new congressional district being created in Arizona would be located in metropolitan Phoenix -- as a newcomer, he could hardly take on a strong incumbent. That didn't happen; the new district ended up in Tucson. But McCain got lucky. Longtime U.S. Representative John Rhodes announced his retirement in January 1982, leaving McCain a clear shot at the state's 1st Congressional District, which includes Tempe, Mesa and parts of east Phoenix. Even before Rhodes made his official announcement, the McCains had found a new home in Tempe.

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