Verizon Denies Report Of Special Treatment For McCains

The Obama campaign is sending to reporters a story from the Washington Post that claims Verizon and AT&T delivered portable cell phone towers to John and Cindy McCain's ranch near Sedona free of charge.

The ranch had lacked cellular coverage, and Cindy McCain's staff asked Verizon for the portable tower – "usually reserved for restoring service when cell coverage is knocked out during emergencies, such as hurricanes" – early last year. The Verizon tower arrived in June, and AT&T followed in July.

"This is an unusual situation," AT&T spokeswoman Claudia B. Jones told the Post. "You can't have a presidential nominee in an area where there is not cell coverage."

The story is a potential headache for the McCain campaign, particularly as the candidate is a senior member of the Senate Commerce Committee.

UPDATE: Peter Thonis, Verizon's chief communications officer, says the Post story is wrong.

"Verizon received a request from Mrs. McCain, but declined," Thonis told CBS News. "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. The Secret Service request, made on May 28, specifically said it needed the service urgently and requested that Verizon 'explore every possible means of providing an alternative cellular or data communications source in the referenced area and provide any short term implementation of any type as a solution in the interim.'"

From the Post:

Over the course of the past year, Cindy McCain had offered land for a permanent cell tower and Verizon embarked on an expensive process to meet her needs, hiring contractors and seeking county land-use permits even though few people other than the McCains would benefit from the tower.

Ethics lawyers said Cindy McCain's dealings with the wireless companies stand out because Sen. John McCain is a senior member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the Federal Communications Commission and the telecommunications industry. He has been a leading advocate for industry-backed legislation, fighting regulations and taxes on telecommunications services.

McCain and his campaign have close ties to Verizon and AT&T. Five campaign officials, including campaign manager Rick Davis, have worked as lobbyists for Verizon. Former McCain staffer Robert Fisher is an in-house lobbyist for Verizon and is volunteering for the campaign. Fisher, Verizon chief executive Ivan Seidenberg and company lobbyists have raised more than $1.3 million for McCain's presidential campaign and Verizon employees are among the top 20 corporate donors over McCain's political career, giving more than $155,000 to his campaigns.

McCain's Senate chief of staff Mark Buse, senior strategist Charles R. Black Jr., and several other campaign staffers have registered as AT&T lobbyists in the past. AT&T Executive Vice President Timothy McKone and AT&T lobbyists have raised more than $2.3 million for McCain. AT&T employees have donated more than $325,000 to McCain campaigns, putting the company in the No. 3 spot for career donations to McCain, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Brian Rogers, a McCain spokesman, told the newspaper that "Mrs. McCain's staff went through the Website as any member of the general public would -- no string pulling, no phone calls, no involvement of Senate staff."

He added: "Just because she is married to a senator doesn't mean she forfeits her right to ask for cell service as any other Verizon customer can."