Apparently the McCains have a bit of pull with the Cellphone industry:
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.
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 spokesman Brian Rogers responded that the towers were temporary, the result of a Secret Service request and, while conceding that Cindy McCain had made a separate, earlier request for the towers that predated her husband’s status as Republican presidential nominee, added, “Mrs. McCain's staff went through the Website as any member of the general public would—no string pulling, no phone calls, no involvement of Senate staff.” Today, a Verizon spokesman, Jeffrey Nelson, took greater umbrage, attacking the Post story as “wrong” and stating that the company, after studying McCain’s request, decided in August not to install a permanent tower at the ranch. “It doesn’t make business sense for us to do that,” Nelson told the Post.
Indeed, as The Atlantic Monthly's Joshua Green notes, there's a lot here that doesn't make sense:
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.
This sounds like an issue in need of further explanation.