McCains Pay Back Taxes on Aunt’s Condo

The latest mini-scandal in Campaign 2008 is that the McCains have apparently not done a good job keeping track of their finances.   HuffPo has gotten 1420 Diggs at this writing with a story headlined “McCains Defaulted On Home Taxes For Last Four Years, Newsweek Reports.” It promises “a highly embarrassing report.”  Newsweek has delivered with “Mrs. McCain, San Diego County Would Like a Word” or, as the page head puts it, “Cindy McCain Pays Back Taxes on San Diego Condo.”

The lede is surprisingly fair:

When you’re poor, it can be hard to pay the bills. When you’re rich, it’s hard to keep track of all the bills that need paying. It’s a lesson Cindy McCain learned the hard way when NEWSWEEK raised questions about an overdue property-tax bill on a La Jolla, Calif., property owned by a trust that she oversees. Mrs. McCain is a beer heiress with an estimated $100 million fortune and, along with her husband, she owns at least seven properties, including condos in California and Arizona.

San Diego County officials, it turns out, have been sending out tax notices on the La Jolla property, an oceanfront condo, for four years without receiving a response. County records show the bills, which were mailed to a Phoenix address associated with Mrs. McCain’s trust, were returned by the post office. According to a McCain campaign aide, who requested anonymity when discussing a private matter, an elderly aunt of Mrs. McCain’s lives in the condo, and the bank that manages the trust has not been receiving tax bills on the property. Shortly after NEWSWEEK inquired about the matter, the McCain aide e-mailed a receipt dated Friday, June 27, confirming payment by the trust to San Diego County in the amount of $6,744.42. County officials say the trust still owes an additional $1,742 for this year, an amount that is overdue and will go into default July 1. Told of the outstanding $1,742, the aide said: “The trust has paid all bills shown owing as of today and will pay all other bills due.”

Obviously, this is an awkward situation but a familiar one. Clearly, the McCain’s weren’t intentionally skipping out on their taxes; this was an administrative error. I suspect the most embarrassing thing here will be the revelation that they own seven homes.

There’s quite a buzz over this for a story that broke on a Saturday night (it’s 6:30 a.m. Sunday morning as I write). memeorandum has sixteen responses already, almost exclusively from the Left.

  • Mark Kleiman: “It must be nice to own so many houses you can’t remember which ones you’re four years in arrears on your real estate taxes.” (Which, again, I think is the most damaging take-away.)
  • Eric Kleefeld: “This isn’t exactly the kind of story that speaks positively of John McCain’s ability to manage the public’s finances.”
  • Mark Adams: “This has got to go down as the worst Presidential campaign by a major party since Herbert Hoover’s reelection motorcades were pelted with eggs and rotten fruit.” (I’m guessing he wasn’t around for Michael Dukakis.)
  • Gun Toting Liberal: “Just because Señor McCain wasn’t born on U.S. Soil doesn’t mean he gets a ‘pass’ when it comes to financing our government’s ambitious projects, Sir and Ma’am.”
  • Pam Spaulding: “McSame says our taxes are too high and he wants to preserve the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, right? I guess none of that really matters to him anyway since he doesn’t bother paying them on his beachfront condo. Why does John McCain hate America?”
  • Jill S.: “If the McCains can’t handle owning eight houses, perhaps they ought to consider being more like the common people they’re trying to pass as and sell a few of them.”
  • Jeff Fecke: “[If a] lower-middle-class family is a few weeks late paying rent, they get evicted. John and Cindy McCain are by any measure phenomenally wealthy, and they haven’t paid taxes on at least one of their seven (!!) houses for four years.” (It’s surprisingly hard to evict people for not paying rent in most places. And you certainly know when you’re not paying it.)
  • Nate Silver introduces a scale for judging the impact of scandals and judges this “Medium-impact, but not spicy.”

Stacy McCain, the only Republican responding, is decidedly not a fun of “the other McCain.” He concludes, “An overblown nothing of a story, as it turns out. It appears to be a case of misdirected mail.” His disagrees with my assessment of the fairness of the lede, which he complains, “tries to play the class warfare card a bit too obviously.” Perhaps so. Then again, it strikes me as quite accurate.

And lest new or occasional readers think I’m merely excusing McCain while I’d be hammering Barack Obama for this, this was precisely my reaction when I learned that Al Franken had failed to pay income taxes in seventeen states.

I’m no great fan of Franken but this explanation strikes me as quite plausible. People who make that kind of money hire accountants and sign where they’re told and write out whatever checks are necessary. Due dilligence tends to involve a quick scan to make sure nothing’s obviously out of whack.

Mistakes happen, even to conscientious, honorable people. They’re still embarrassing, obviously, but hardly disqualifying.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. jukeboxgrad says:

    “They’re still embarrassing, obviously, but hardly disqualifying.”

    I think that’s a fair summary, but there are a couple of other angles worth taking into account, just from the perspective of framing and political impact.

    It doesn’t help that McCain is the guy who said this: “The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should.”

    If he can’t manage his own economic affairs in an efficient and proper manner, that doesn’t bode well for his ability to manage the nation’s. His statement, and this incident, create the impression that he will delegate economic affairs to unsupervised underlings who will drop the ball. After Bush’s track record of fiscal mismanagement and overall ineptness, this is somewhat toxic.

    Also, he’s old. Old people forget to take care of basic things, like paying bills.

    I’m not saying the story is huge. I’m just saying that it highlights some of his existing weaknesses.

    “It appears to be a case of misdirected mail.”

    That’s a lame, defensive, childish excuse. If McCain is smart, he won’t use it. But I’m not sure he’s smart.

  2. jpe says:

    That analysis sounds about right. It’s a mildly amusing gotcha, and that’s about it. That the family owns 7 houses isn’t too surprising for a wealthy family. Two or three for Mac, others held by trusts for other family family members. Nothing too crazy about that, although if this were the Clintons or the Obamas, we’d never hear the end of it. (elitism, lattes, etc.)