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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Mr. Rezko? Meet Donald Diamond

This is a letter from Senator John McCain. He wrote it back in 1998 to help his friend, wealthy ... oh, sorry, "unhappy" ... developer Donald Diamond. And John McCain's letter may have helped Donald get himself a fat deal to develop land at a former Army base. Oh, and Donald? He's raised more than $250,000 for John McCain's presidential campaign. From the New York Times back in April:
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.

A spokeswoman for Mr. McCain, Jill Hazelbaker, said the senator, now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, “had done nothing for Mr. Diamond that he would not do for any other Arizona citizen.”
Really? Any, any, any old citizen?

The McCain campaign is going nuclear on Barack Obama to cover up their candidates "can't remember how many homes he has" gaffe. Well, perhaps its time for Team Obama to crack open the history books on Mr. McCain, starting with Mr. Diamond. The Times article also offered a peek into the "Joe Six Pack" simple life the McCains and their friends enjoy:
Over the years, Mr. Diamond and his wife, Joan, visited the McCains at their ranch in Sedona, Ariz., and entertained them in their Tucson home and in the Bahamas, where Mr. Diamond sometimes keeps his 134-foot yacht, the Queen of Diamonds. In 2001, the two men attended a Yankees-Diamondback World Series game together. “He is just very, very good company,” Mr. Diamond said of Mr. McCain. “I knew all his people and the staff.”

Mr. Diamond and his family have given more than $55,000 to Mr. McCain’s campaigns (and more than $600,000 to other federal candidates). More significantly, the developer has collected (or “bundled”) hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from others, and is now serving as a national co-chairman of the finance committee for Mr. McCain’s current presidential run. In the spring of 2000, when Mr. Diamond was in the thick of the negotiations for his California deals, he traveled with Mr. McCain through the early Republican primaries. Mr. Diamond was on the campaign trail again this year.

...To raise money for Mr. McCain, Mr. Diamond invites local Republicans to make fund-raising calls from his Tucson office. Ray Carroll, a member of the council that controls zoning in Pima County, Ariz., said Mr. Diamond followed up on one fund-raising session with a thank-you note “on behalf of Mr. McCain,” sending a copy to the senator.

“To reciprocate, if you need any zoning in the county, let me know,” Mr. Diamond wrote. (Mr. Diamond said it was the kind of joke he often made.)

Ah, the simple life!

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