Obama Lawyer Critical of McCain Cell Phone Tower
By James V. Grimaldi
The Obama campaign's top lawyer today criticized John McCain for accepting free cell phone towers from two wireless companies that placed the devices on his wife's remote ranch in Arizona to improve a coverage dead zone.
"This is John McCain's display of his maverick ethics: He believes he is entitled to free cell service while other Americans have to pay for theirs," said Bob Bauer, general counsel of the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign and chairman of the political law practice at Perkins Coie LLP.
The Washington Post reported last night that Verizon Wireless and AT&T installed portable cellular towers on the ranch, located in a canyon 12 miles southwest of Sedona, providing consistent coverage to the ranch for the first time.
In response to the reports, McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers told the Associated Press, "This story is a disgrace. The McCain's went through the process that is available to anybody who subscribes to one of these cell phone companies to inquire about getting service."
Records filed with the Federal Election Commission show that Verizon and AT&T are the top wireless services used by McCain campaign workers. McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, have used the ranch to practice for the debates and strategy sessions have been held there.
Jim Cicconi, AT&T senior executive vice president for external affairs, said in a statement that the company would have provided the same level of customer service for Obama. "We made a temporary accommodation to Senator McCain, who is a presidential nominee," Cicconi said. "Should a similar need arise, we would make the same accommodation for Senator Obama."
Verizon spokesman Jeffrey Nelson attacked The Post's story as "wrong," saying, "Verizon received a request from Mrs. McCain, but declined. Subsequent to that, the Secret Service made a legitimate request for a temporary tower for its work and Verizon complied as is required by our contract with the agency."
However, interviews and public records filed in the development services offices of Yavapai County, Ariz., reveal a different timeline. Getting cell coverage was the culmination of an effort begun in early 2007 by Cindy McCain, when her staff first requested coverage through Verizon's Web site, according to the McCain campaign. After discussing the matter with the company, Mrs. McCain offered land for a permanent cell tower. She gave Verizon authorization to act on her behalf to seek permits from the county. Verizon hired contractors to draw up the plans and Cindy McCain signed a contract in May.
After a regulatory hurdle delayed installation of the permanent tower, Verizon received e-mails from the Secret Service asking about coverage in the area and asking for the process to be rushed. Verizon's contractor then petitioned for a cell site on wheels. It was installed in June. Two months later, Verizon abandoned its effort to install a permanent tower because it would be "an inappropriate way" to build its network, Nelson said. "It doesn't make business sense for us to do that."
AT&T's Cicconi noted in his statement that portable towers were also provided to the Democratic National Convention site where Sen. Barack Obama gave his nomination acceptance speech. "In Denver, when the venue of the Democratic nomination acceptance speech was moved to Invesco Field, we rapidly enhanced our wireless coverage in that area by using temporary cell towers."
But telecommunications experts told the Post that installing portable towers for major events is a money-maker for wireless companies because thousands of people using phones and handheld devices bring in a lot of income using billable minutes. The number of users on the McCain property would be much smaller, they said, even if campaign staff were there.
Posted at 9:39 AM ET on Oct 16, 2008
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