Longform

Saving Private Interests

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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.

Over the years, Lindner has taken his share of criticism for allegedly manipulating politicians. He is thought to exert a great deal of power over the candidates he supports financially.

In 1994, Ohio's attorney general looked into allegations that Ohio Governor George V. Voinovich was rewarding campaign contributors with state tax breaks and other financial gimmees. A handful of contributors was listed; the centerpiece was Lindner's Great American Life Insurance, which had received $8.6 million in state loans, tax credits and grants. Lindner and members of his family had donated $73,500 to Voinovich's campaign. In the end, the attorney general decided there was insufficient evidence to warrant a full-blown investigation.

Since 1992, Carl Lindner and his family have donated at least $3,000 to John McCain's reelection campaigns. But without a hotly contested senate race since 1986, it's unlikely McCain is looking for money for his local race. If he were to solicit donations from a big contributor like Lindner, it would be for a 2000 presidential run.

That's Carl Lindner's forte.
Lindner was mentioned in a 1996 Frontline episode titled "So You Want to Buy a President?", which focused on Lindner's lobbying efforts on behalf of one of the companies he runs, Chiquita.

In 1993, the European Union had imposed trade barriers designed to boost Caribbean banana growers by blocking sales of bananas grown by American companies, including Chiquita. Chiquita claimed the move had cost it $400 million, but U.S. officials initially balked at acting on the company's behalf because American jobs were not involved.

When the White House finally did decide to act, critics pointed to Lindner's hefty contributions to the Democratic party. Chiquita has denied any quid pro quo.

Neither McCain's nor Lindner's offices answered requests seeking comment for this story.

Whatever the fate of McCain's campaign war chest, at the moment, the fate of the proposed Spur Cross Ranch trade rests with Scottsdale's city council.

The Scottsdale City Council may vote on whether to support the land-trade proposal at a meeting on August 25. As McCain's chief of staff Gullett said, the clock is ticking.

Contact Amy Silverman at her online address: [email protected]

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.