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McCain Hit Again on Arizona Land Deals

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) answers questions from reporters on his bus prior to visiting the St. Albans Gun and Archery store in Charleston, W.Va., May 16, 2008. (Associated Press)

By Matthew Mosk
Sen. John McCain's ties to the real estate development arm of his home state's power company continued to prove nettlesome today, as a newspaper reported that McCain secured millions in federal funds for a land acquisition program that benefited the firm.

Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that McCain had championed a deal to trade valuable federal land in northern Arizona to a rancher who then enlisted Tempe-based SunCor Development to build as many as 12,000 homes on the property.

SunCor's president, Steve Betts, is a longtime McCain supporter who has raised more than $100,000 for the senator's presidential bid.

Today's report, in USA Today, revealed that McCain inserted $14.3 million into a 2003 defense bill to buy land around Luke Air Force Base. SunCor sought the provision as the largest of about 50 landowners near the base. SunCor representatives, upset with a state law that restricted development around Luke, met with McCain's staff to lobby for funding, John Ogden, SunCor's president at the time, told the paper.

The Air Force later paid SunCor $3 million for 122 acres near the base, according to the report. It was the highest single land transaction of the private lots purchased by the government -- three times the county's assessed value and twice the military's estimated value.

McCain's campaign sought to discredit the report in e-mails to reporters today, calling it a "smear job." The campaign said the Air Force needed to acquire the land to "ensure the safety of flight operations associated with the base."

As with the 2005 land swap legislation that helped position SunCor to build on large swaths of land available for development near Prescott, McCain's campaign said his action on the land near Luke Air Force Base had widespread support in Arizona.

"This story is absurd," said Brian Rogers, a McCain campaign spokesman. "This project was requested by the Air Force and supported by virtually everyone in Arizona -- Democrats and Republicans, Governor Napolitano, the entire congressional delegation and scores of local leaders -- but that's not even mentioned in this story. It's shameful."

By Web Politics Editor  |  May 16, 2008; 3:07 PM ET
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