Yet another shady deal involving McCain, lobbyists and a major campaign donor

McCain’s campaign is rife with D.C. lobbyists. They’re running pretty much the whole operation. And, as much as McCain purports to be a guy who isn’t influenced by lobbyists, he is. Today’s Washington Post has a front page article examining a land deal McCain shepherded through Congress (the “largest” deal of its kind in the history of Arizona, we’re told). A lot of former McCain staffers/lobbyist were involved, McCain cut the deal and one of his top fundraisers ended up being a major beneficiary of the whole thing:

McCain initially withheld support for Hayworth’s bill, which failed in 2002. Ruskin saw McCain’s restraint as an obstacle. He said Senate staff members warned him that the senator was wary of a swap because “he spent some political capital and got some bricks thrown at him” over the Tonto National Forest deal.

Ruskin, who is a pediatrician by training, said he realized he needed to hire lobbyists “to open communications with McCain’s office.”

He turned to some of McCain’s closest former advisers. In 2002, he sought out Mark Buse, McCain’s former staff director at the Senate commerce committee, which the senator chaired.

“I had gone to him to see if he had any advice as to how to deal with McCain,” Ruskin said. “We had a couple of meetings and I paid him a little bit.” Buse’s federal lobbying records do not list the ranch as a client.

That year, lobbying records show, Ruskin also paid $60,000 to Michael Jimenez, another former McCain aide. Wes Gullett, who had worked in McCain’s Senate office, managed his 1992 reelection bid, and served as deputy campaign manager for his 2000 presidential run, also lobbied on the bill, documents show. The watchdog group Public Citizen lists Gullett and his wife, Deborah, as bundlers who have raised more than $100,000 for McCain’s White House bid. Ruskin also hired Gullett’s partner, Kurt R. Davis, another McCain bundler and member of the senator’s Arizona leadership team, to work with local officials and “to help with McCain if we needed help.” Buse, Jimenez and Gullett did not return calls seeking comment.

Davis said that he and Gullett were not hired just to win over McCain. “Each member has issues that are more important to them. You have to be able to address their individual concerns. We had familiarity with the issues important to McCain.” In this case, Davis said, “Senator McCain was very, very engaged and concerned about water issues.”

In April 2003, McCain introduced his version of a land-swap bill. But he remained reluctant about the exchange, speaking to opponents and organizing meetings in towns that would be most affected.

Flagstaff Mayor Joseph C. Donaldson, a supporter of the swap, said McCain’s hesitation stemmed from his “insistence that the environment be protected.” But opponents were baffled by the senator’s seemingly contradictory positions. Said Blaeloch: “The bizarre thing to me regarding McCain is, we spent a lot of time with his staff, and we all seemed to be on the same page about the problems with this swap. But somehow, John McCain kept pushing it forward.”

Funny thing: The legislation for the land swap did pass thanks to McCain. Even funnier thing: One of the biggest fundraisers for McCain ended up getting the contract to build the development:

When McCain’s legislation passed in November 2005, the ranch owner gave the job of building as many as 12,000 homes to SunCor Development, a firm in Tempe, Ariz., run by Steven A. Betts, a longtime McCain supporter who has raised more than $100,000 for the presumptive Republican nominee. Betts said he and McCain never discussed the deal.

Funny how these things happen. Starts to become clearer and clearer how McCain did get himself wrapped up with Charles Keating after all.


On October 27, 2010, Joe was one of five bloggers who interviewed President Obama. Joe is a DC-based political consultant with over twenty-five years of experience at both the state and federal level. Joe has managed political operations and legislative efforts for both candidates and issues-based organizations. For seven years, he was the Director of State Legislation at Handgun Control, Inc. He served as that organization's first Political Director during the 2000 cycle. Joe is a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law. In addition, he has a Masters in Public Administration from Lehigh University and received his B.A. from the University of New Hampshire. Joe also has a fun dog, Petey, a worthy successor to Boomer, who got Joe through eight years of Bush and Cheney. Joe likes to think he is a world class athlete having finished the 2005 Chicago Marathon in the time of 4:10. He has completed six other marathons as well -- and is still determined to break the four hour mark.

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