For all of McCain’s yammering about changing the culture of corruption in Washington, you’d think he’d start by cleaning up his own corruption first. I’m sure you could call up Verizon or AT&T and complain about your cellphone reception, and they’d install cell-phone towers in your remote location, free of charge, right?
Early in 2007, just as her husband launched his presidential bid, Cindy McCain sought to resolve an old problem – the lack of cellphone coverage on her remote 15-acre ranch near Sedona, Ariz., nestled deep in a tree-lined canyon called Hidden Valley.
Over the past year, she offered land for a permanent cell tower, and Verizon Wireless embarked on an expensive public process to meet her needs, hiring contractors and seeking county land-use permits.
Verizon ultimately abandoned its effort to install a permanent tower in August. Company spokesman Jeffrey Nelson said the project would be “an inappropriate way” to build its network. “It doesn’t make business sense for us to do that,” he added.
Instead, Verizon delivered a portable tower known as a “cell site on wheels” – free of charge – to the McCain property in June…
In July, AT&T followed suit, wheeling in a portable tower for free to match Verizon’s offer. “This is an unusual situation,” AT&T spokeswoman Claudia B. Jones said. …
Ethics lawyers said Cindy McCain’s dealings with the wireless companies stand out because her husband is a senior member of the Senate commerce committee, which oversees the Federal Communications Commission and the telecommunications industry. He has been a leading advocate for industry-backed legislation, fighting regulations and taxes on telecommunication services.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and his campaign have close ties to Verizon and AT&T. Five campaign officials, including manager Rick Davis, have worked as lobbyists for Verizon. Former McCain staff member Robert Fisher is an in-house lobbyist for Verizon and is volunteering for the campaign. Fisher, Verizon chief executive Ivan G. Seidenberg and company lobbyists have raised more than $1.3 million for McCain’s presidential effort, and Verizon employees are among the top 20 corporate donors over McCain’s political career, giving his campaigns more than $155,000.
McCain’s Senate chief of staff Mark Buse, senior strategist Charles R. Black Jr. and several other campaign staff members have registered as AT&T lobbyists in the past. AT&T Executive Vice President Timothy McKone and AT&T lobbyists have raised more than $2.3 million for McCain. AT&T employees have donated more than $325,000 to the Republican’s campaigns, putting the company in the No. 3 spot for career donations to McCain, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
“It raises the aura of special consideration for somebody because he is a member of the Senate,” said Stanley Brand, a former House counsel for Democrats and an ethics lawyer who represents politicians in both parties.
What a perfect description of John McCain: special consideration for some, and bupkis for the rest of us. The tower would be so infrequently used, it made no business sense, unless you are helping out your friend in Washington, D.C.
Three telecommunications specialists consulted by The Post said the proposed site covers so few users that it is unlikely to generate enough traffic to justify the investment. Robb Alarcon, an industry specialist who helps plan tower placement, said the proposed location appeared to be a “strategic build,” free-of-charge coverage to high-priority customers. A former Verizon executive vice president, who asked not to be named because he worked for the company, agreed with Alarcon, saying, “It was a VIP kind of thing.”
The Atlantic’s Joshua Green follows up (and please click through if you are interested in the topic, there are several primary documents hosted at The Atlantic)
What’s clear from the report is that the process of putting up a tower required a lot of work—in addition to consultants and archeologists and Indian tribes, it meant notifying all sorts of government agencies, as the report lays out. What’s also clear from the public record is that Verizon knew full well whose non-sacred Indian land this ranch belonged to. Though the formal, bureaucratic name for the McCain’s ranch seems to be “AZ 2 Hidden Valley Ranch,” Verizon’s internal map, obtained by The Atlantic (it was part of a Verizon engineer’s report on the property), refers to it as “John McCain’s cabin.” So while Cindy McCain may indeed have requested the tower over the web like an ordinary millionaire rancher with spotty phone reception, Verizon was well aware that she was anything but that. (As of this posting, Jeffrey Nelson, the Verizon spokesman, hadn’t returned my call.)
All of this suggests a number of things: Rogers looks to have been correct in stating that the Secret Service asked for, and received, temporary towers—but that doesn’t address the parallel issue of the permanent towers, long underway until just recently, that lay at the heart of the Post piece and in the public record. The McCains may not have asked Verizon for any special favors—but, wittingly or not, they sure look like they were about to receive them. To my mind, Verizon looks worst of all: the company is claiming that it abandoned the tower because it wouldn’t “make business sense to do it.” In a sense, this is self evident: you don’t have to look any further than a map of the area to see what a remote and sparsely populated place is “AZ 2 Hidden Valley Ranch.” And so the only reason to embark on the two-year process of lawyers, regulators, consultant, archeologists, and Indians is if you’re seeking a payoff of another kind.