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Cindy's Fortune: An Asset And A Liability
Politico: Cindy McCain's Fortune Has Benefited Husband's Career But Could Attract Unwanted Attention
(The Politico) This story was written by Kenneth P. Vogel.In 2004, Republicans demanded fuller disclosure about the considerable fortune of Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
Now, the GOP is reaping what it sowed.
Having established a recent precedent for increased scrutiny of spousal finances, the party now finds its own presumptive nominee, John McCain, under an unwanted spotlight over his wife Cindy’s fortune.
Already, Democrats have blasted Cindy McCain’s less-than-full financial disclosure, asserting that it calls into question John McCain’s commitment to transparency and suggests that he may be “hiding” information about how his efforts in Congress benefited his family.
Worse though, the burgeoning focus on Cindy McCain’s finances could attract attention to an aspect of the Arizona senator’s family life that is unlikely to be advantageous to him on the campaign trail-the affluent lifestyle and free-spending habits of the McCain clan.
Cindy McCain and the McCain children are the beneficiaries of a beer distributing fortune amassed by her parents and estimated to be worth $100 million or more. Though the McCains maintain separate finances, Cindy McCain’s family fortune has boosted her husband’s political career at critical junctures, helping to fund his inaugural 1982 run for Congress and helping to subsidize his current presidential campaign when it all-but-went broke last year.
In recent years, a Politico analysis found, the McCain family appears to have tapped its fortune liberally.
While Cindy McCain, her dependent children and the trusts and companies they control made as much as $29 million - and likely substantially more - from her family’s business interests from 2004 through last year, data from the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Senate, U.S. Office of Government Ethics and the Center for Responsive Politics also reveals that they spent $11 million purchasing five condominiums for the family, hired additional household help and racked up progressively larger credit cards bills almost every year.
Their credit card bills peaked between January 2007 and May 2008, during which time Cindy McCain charged as much as $500,000 in a single month on one American Express card and $250,000 on another, while one of their two dependent children had an AmEx card with a monthly balance as large as $50,000.
A campaign aide who did not want to be identified discussing the McCain’s personal finances stressed that the credit card balances are “not ongoing debt.”
The aide pointed out that the disclosure forms on which the credit card liabilities were listed ask respondents to indicate ranges for the largest balances owed during the reporting period.
“It has been the McCain’s practice and procedure, as previously indicated, to pay off the balance of credit cards on a monthly basis, so they do not carry credit card debt,” the aide said in a statement.
The aide did not answer questions about what Cindy McCain or their children purchased with the cards and declined to make either she or her husband available for an interview about their finances or spending habits.
Cindy McCain released only the first two pages of her 2006 tax return. She received an extension until October 15 to file her 2007 returns and the aide said “she will make the decision whether to release her 2007 return at the appropriate time.”
During the 2004 presidential campaign, Teresa Heinz Kerry, whose fortune was estimated to be worth more than $750 million, eventually released comparably limited information about her finances after repeated demands from Republicans who asserted the public’s right to know because they said her finances were intertwined with those of her husband’s presidential campaign. The Kerry campaign had benefited from a $6.4 million personal loan Sen. Kerry secured using, as collateral, equity in a Boston townhouse the couple jointly owned.
Likewise, John McCain’s presidential campaign benefited from Cindy McCain’s fortune, using a legal loophole to travel the country in a jet owned by her company for cut-rate fares.
That revelation, combined with recent reports about Cindy McCain’s hefty credit card tabs and nearly $7,000 in unpaid property taxes on a condo owned by a trust she oversees have drawn even closer scrutiny to the McCain family finances.
While McCain’s campaign spending is a matter of public record, his family’s personal spending is not, and for the most part there’s only anecdotal information available.
For instance, in the June issue of Vogue magazine, Cindy McCain said she favors suits made by the German designer Escada, which typically retail for around $3,000-a-pop. If she becomes first lady, she told Vogue she may switch to an American designer, possibly Carolina Herrera, whose suits are comparably pricey.
But one area in which Cindy McCain’s spending - and its impact on her husband’s lifestyle -can be chronicled is real estate.
Property records show that trusts and corporations controlled by her and her children spent nearly $11 million between the summer of 2004 and this February on three condominiums in Phoenix and a pair outside San Diego.
One of the Phoenix condos, a 6,600-square foot unit for which Cindy McCain’s trust paid $4.7 million in October 2006 became Cindy McCain’s primary residence after the trust sold the couple’s Phoenix house, which she had purchased from her father, for $3.2 million in December 2006.
Less than one year later, a corporation controlled by Cindy McCain bought another condo on a lower floor in the same building for $830,000.
And, in between, the corporation plunked down $700,000 for a 1,900-square foot, three-bedroom loft condo for their then-22-year old daughter Meghan McCain, who was moving back to Phoenix after graduating from New York’s Columbia University.
Cindy McCain, through another family corporation, spent about $4.7 million in 2004 and 2008 on two condos in an exclusive building in Coronado, Calif., an affluent San Diego suburb noted for its high percentage of military retirees.
In her recent Vogue interview, conducted from the newer Coronado condo, McCain explained that her husband, a Navy veteran, initially wasn’t keen on the idea of a pied-à-terre in Coronado.
"When I bought the first one, my husband, who is not a beach person, said, 'Oh this is such a waste of money; the kids will never go,'” she said in Vogue. “Then it got to the point where they used it so much I couldn't get in the place. So I bought another one.”
Through her trusts and other corporate entities, Cindy McCain also owns another three properties: a scenic ranch outside Sedona, Arizona, where John McCain has entertained staff, prospective running mates and political reporters; a three-bedroom Arlington, Virginia, condo that’s been John McCain’s Washington-area residence since 1993 and the La Jolla, California, condo on which the back taxes were due.
The McCains increased their budget for household employees from $184,000 in 2006 to $273,000 in 2007, according to John McCain’s tax returns.
The additional cash supports an “increase in the number of employees,” said the McCain aide, who did not say whether the growing staff stemmed from the addition of new properties to the family’s real estate portfolio.
Other than the primary Phoenix residence, the aide said the new condos were “purchased for investment and are available for personal use by the McCain family.”
The recent growth in the family’s credit card bills could stem from furnishing, decorating and moving into the new condos, said Christopher Cordaro, a wealth manager at RegentAtlantic Capital in New Jersey.
After reviewing the McCain’s taxes and disclosures for Politico, he declared their finances in ship-shape and their spending understandable when “put in perspective that the McCains are very wealthy.”
“You certainly wouldn’t see the average person ringing up that large of a monthly balance,” he said. “But, if you’re worth $100 million, the amount they’re spending is not inordinate. I’m sure that at their level, they’re putting lots of stuff on their credit card.”
Judging by their finances and spending, Cordaro asserted the McCains likely qualified for top-tier charge accounts loaded with benefits.
In addition to the American Express cards - which carry no monthly interest charges - Cindy and John McCain jointly hold a credit card through Chase with a steep 25.99-percent interest rate. It had a top balance as large as $15,000 last year.
John McCain has his own credit card, his aide said, but its balance for years has not exceeded the $10,000 threshold that triggers the reporting requirement for listing liabilities on Senate or executive branch personal financial disclosure statements.
The last year John McCain reported holding a credit card with such a balance was 2004, when he had an American Express Platinum card with a top balance of $15,000. Cindy McCain also had a Platinum AmEx that year, with a top balance that was $100,000, as well as a “Business Platinum” account with a top balance of $50,000, and charge cards from Saks Fifth Avenue, MasterCard and Visa with top monthly balances between $15,000 and $50,000 and interest rates between 10.49- and 24.49-percent.
And in 2004, one of their dependent children had an AmEx Business Platinum card with a top monthly balance of $50,000. The McCain aide wouldn’t identify which child got the card, but their oldest, Meghan, turned 20 that year.
"If spending money you don't have is the height of stupidity, borrowing money to give it away is the height of insanity." -- anon