Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP candidate for Presidents, portrays himself as a “straight talker” who avoids back room,deal making politics.
In truth, McCain is just another politician on the take, ready and willing to do anything to help a fatcat friend with deep pockets and lots of pull.
And one of McCain’s best friends is an Arizona deal-maker named Donald R. Diamond.
Donald R. Diamond, a wealthy Arizona real estate developer, was racing to snap up a stretch of virgin California coast freed by the closing of an Army base a decade ago when he turned to an old friend, Senator John McCain.
When Mr. Diamond wanted to buy land at the base, Fort Ord, Mr. McCain assigned an aide who set up a meeting at the Pentagon and later stepped in again to help speed up the sale, according to people involved and a deposition Mr. Diamond gave for a related lawsuit. When he appealed to a nearby city for the right to develop other property at the former base, Mr. Diamond submitted Mr. McCain’s endorsement as “a close personal friend.”
Writing to officials in the city, Seaside, Calif., the senator said, “You will find him as honorable and committed as I have.”
Courting local officials and potential partners, Mr. Diamond’s team promised that he could “help get through some of the red tape in dealing with the Department of the Army” because Mr. Diamond “has been very active with Senator McCain,” a partner said in a deposition.
For Mr. McCain, the Arizona Republican who has staked two presidential campaigns on pledges to avoid even the appearance of dispensing an official favor for a donor, Mr. Diamond is the kind of friend who can pose a test.
A longtime political patron, Mr. Diamond is one of the elite fund-raisers Mr. McCain’s current presidential campaign calls Innovators, having raised more than $250,000 so far. At home, Mr. Diamond is sometimes referred to as “The Donald,” Arizona’s answer to Donald Trump — an outsized personality who invites public officials aboard his flotilla of yachts (the Ace, King, Jack and Queen of Diamonds), specializes in deals with the government, and unabashedly solicits support for his business interests from the recipients of his campaign contributions.
Mr. McCain has occasionally rebuffed Mr. Diamond’s entreaties as inappropriate, but he has also taken steps that benefited his friend’s real estate empire. Their 26-year relationship illuminates how Mr. McCain weighs requests from a benefactor against his vows, adopted after a brush with scandal two decades ago, not to intercede with government authorities on behalf of a donor or take other official action that serves no clear public interest.
In California, the McCain aide’s assistance with the Army helped Mr. Diamond complete a purchase in 1999 that he soon turned over for a $20 million profit. And Mr. McCain’s letter of recommendation reinforced Mr. Diamond’s selling point about his McCain connections as he pursued — and won in 2005 — a potentially much more lucrative deal to develop a resort hotel and luxury housing.
In Arizona, Mr. McCain has helped Mr. Diamond with matters as small as forwarding a complaint in a regulatory skirmish over the endangered pygmy owl, and as large as introducing legislation remapping public lands. In 1991 and 1994, Mr. McCain sponsored two laws sought by Mr. Diamond that resulted in providing him millions of dollars and thousands of acres in exchange for adding some of his properties to national parks. The Arizona senator co-sponsored a third similar bill now before the Senate.