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McCain's Ties to an Arizona Developer.--

The New York Times has a long story critical of John McCain's links to a rich Arizona developer, Donald Diamond (registration required):

Mr. McCain has campaigned as a critic of the corrupting influence of money and politics, saying he had learned a lesson from a late 1980s scandal over his part in an intervention with banking regulators examining a savings and loan controlled by a patron, Charles Keating. Since then, Mr. McCain vowed to embrace ethics standards that set him apart from many colleagues.

"I have carefully avoided situations that might even tangentially be construed as a less than proper use of my office," he wrote in his memoir, "Worth the Fighting For" (Random House, 2002).

Mr. McCain once publicly criticized Mr. Diamond as lobbying too hard for his own financial interests. In 1995, Mr. McCain called it "unheard of" that Mr. Diamond had hired a Washington lobbyist to try to block construction of a federal building in Tucson that threatened to take away some of his rental income. "I didn't talk to him for one year," Mr. Diamond said of Mr. McCain. "I was annoyed."

Legislating Land Deals

Mr. McCain has been willing, though, to help sponsor bills authorizing federal land exchanges that Mr. Diamond sought. Former Representative Jim Kolbe, another Arizona Republican close to Mr. Diamond, said Mr. Diamond often proposed such deals and impressed lawmakers with his frankness about the potential sensitivities, Mr. Kolbe said.

"He would tell you, 'I don't think you should get on this one, this one is too close to where you live, let another member of the delegation work on this one,' " Mr. Kolbe said. "He never tried to flim-flam you."

Such exchanges can serve a public interest by expanding parks or wilderness areas. But many environmentalists and other analysts have also concluded that such trades almost invariably give private developers a profitable bargain at public expense. Although federal rules stipulate that public land can be traded for private land only of "equal value," appraisals of unusual property or in fast-growing areas are highly variable and developers often apply political pressure to get favorable terms.

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