THE CARPETBAGGER by Tim Dickinson in Rolling Stone
As his marriage unraveled, McCain’s naval career was also stalling out. He had been passed over for a promotion. There was no sea command on the horizon, ensuring that he would never be able to join his four-star forefathers. For good measure, he crashed his third and final plane, this one a single-engine ultralight. McCain has never spoken of his last crash publicly, but his friend Gen. Jim Jones recalled in a 1999 interview that it left McCain with bandages on his face and one arm in a sling.
So McCain turned to politics. Receiving advance word that a GOP congressional seat was opening up outside Phoenix, he put the inside edge to good use. Within minutes of the incumbent’s official retirement announcement, Cindy McCain bought her husband the house that would serve as his foothold in the district. In sharp contrast to the way he now markets himself, McCain’s campaign ads billed him as an insider — a man “who knows how Washington works.” Though the Reagans no longer respected him, McCain featured pictures of himself smiling with them.
“Thanks to my prisoner-of-war experience,” McCain writes, “I had, as they say in politics, a good story to sell.” And sell it he did. “Listen, pal,” he told an opponent who challenged him during a candidate forum. “I wish I could have had the luxury, like you, of growing up and living and spending my entire life in a nice place like the first district of Arizona, but I was doing other things. As a matter of fact, when I think about it now, the place I lived the longest in my life was Hanoi.”
finance his campaign, McCain dipped into the Hensley family fortune. He secured an endorsement from his mentor, Sen. Tower, who tapped his vast donor network in Texas to give McCain a much-needed boost. And he began an unethical relationship with a high-flying and corrupt financier that would come to characterize his cozy dealings with major donors and lobbyists over the years.
Charlie Keating, the banker and anti-pornography crusader, would ultimately be convicted on 73 counts of fraud and racketeering for his role in the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s. That crisis, much like today’s subprime-mortgage meltdown, resulted from misbegotten banking deregulation, and ultimately left taxpayers to pick up a tab of more than $124 billion. Keating, who raised more than $100,000 for McCain’s race, lavished the first-term congressman with the kind of political favors that would make Jack Abramoff blush. McCain and his family took at least nine free trips at Keating’s expense, and vacationed nearly every year at the mogul’s estate in the Bahamas. There they would spend the days yachting and snorkeling and attending extravagant parties in a world McCain referred to as “Charlie Keating’s Shangri-La.” Keating also invited Cindy McCain and her father to invest in a real estate venture for which he promised a 26 percent return on investment. They plunked down more than $350,000.
McCain still attributes the attention to nothing more than Keating’s “great respect for military people” and the duo’s “political and personal affinity.” But Keating, for his part, made no bones about the purpose of his giving. When asked by reporters if the investments he made in politicians bought their loyalty and influence on his behalf, Keating replied, “I want to say in the most forceful way I can, I certainly hope so.”