Verizon and AT&T Provided Cell Towers for McCain Ranch
Thursday, October 16, 2008
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, after the Secret Service began inquiring about improving coverage in the area. Such devices are used for providing temporary capacity where coverage is lacking or has been knocked out, in circumstances ranging from the Super Bowl to hurricanes.
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. "You can't have a presidential nominee in an area where there is not cell coverage."
Ethics lawyers said Cindy McCain's dealings with the wireless companies stand out because her husband, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), 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.
McCain 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.
McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers said that the senator is not a regulator and that Cindy McCain received no favors from Verizon or AT&T.
"Mrs. McCain's staff went through the Web site as any member of the general public would -- no string-pulling, no phone calls, no involvement of Senate staff," Rogers said. "Just because she is married to a senator doesn't mean she forfeits her right to ask for cell service as any other Verizon customer can."
Verizon spokesman Nelson said: "I am not going to talk about individual customers and their requests."