His name on ballot, her's on properties

McCains keep a bit of privacy

John McCain campaigned in Orlando, Fla., this week with his wife, Cindy. The senator's finances are difficult to scrutinize. John McCain campaigned in Orlando, Fla., this week with his wife, Cindy. The senator's finances are difficult to scrutinize. (Scott Audette/reuters)
By David M. Halbfinger
New York Times News Service / August 23, 2008
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PHOENIX - When Senator John McCain is in Washington, he lives in a luxury high-rise condominium in Arlington, Va., owned by his wife, Cindy Hensley McCain. Cindy McCain also owns their condos in Phoenix, San Diego, and Coronado, Calif., and their vacation compound near Sedona, Ariz. And it is the beer business, Hensley & Co., she inherited from her father that is the source of the McCain family fortune.

That fortune makes John McCain one of the richest members of the Senate. But barely a sliver of it is in his name.

Democrats have increasingly highlighted McCain's wealth: Senator Barack Obama ridiculed him Thursday for being unable to say how many homes he owns, saying it showed that McCain was out of touch with ordinary Americans.

But with the McCains' money in Cindy McCain's name, as dictated by a prenuptial agreement, the senator's finances are more difficult to assess and scrutinize than those of many other political candidates.

The husbands and wives of senators are subject to fewer disclosure requirements than their office-holding spouses. In addition, Cindy McCain, who files separate tax returns from her husband, controls a privately held company and invests mainly through a web of limited-liability corporations and trusts that have few disclosure requirements. She declined to be interviewed.

"Cindy is a private person, and I think in many ways that defines her," said Robert Delgado, her father's successor as chief executive of Hensley & Co., who spoke at the McCain campaign's behest.

But the Hensley family wealth, from its rough-and-tumble origins to prominence in Arizona's corporate world, is also the fortune that propelled John McCain into national politics. A clearer picture of that fortune emerges from a review of public records and interviews with employees, business associates, friends, and relatives.

Hensley & Co. has grown from a tiny operation in the 1950s to the dominant beer wholesaler in Arizona with more than $300 million in annual sales.

It plays a leading role in corporate Phoenix - Andy McCain, the senator's stepson from his first marriage and a top executive of the beer company, is now president of the city's Chamber of Commerce - and is a forceful presence in state politics.

But by all accounts, Cindy McCain is far from a forceful presence at the company, where she is the chairwoman.

She crisscrosses the country on the company jet, keeps an accountant on the company payroll to mind her personal finances, drives a company Lexus with "MS BUD" plates, and says she oversees the company's "strategic planning and corporate vision." But she almost never shows up at the office, and has left scarcely a mark on the company, executives say.

Anheuser-Busch documents suggest that Cindy McCain's ownership of Hensley & Co. could also create an unusual circumstance. The brewer's contracts with wholesalers require that absentee owners supervise their managers, attend meetings, and make timely decisions, meaning that the business would be overseen by the first lady. And if she chose to withdraw from ownership, Anheuser-Busch would have the right to approve whoever bought her shares, or to make an offer to buy them.

Cindy McCain's father was James W. Hensley, a World War II hero who stunned his first wife, Mary Jeanne Parks, by divorcing her to marry another woman, Marguerite Smith of Tennessee, whom he met while recuperating from war injuries far from home.

Back in Phoenix, he and his brother, Eugene, went into the liquor business with Kemper Marley, a businessman who had cornered much of the market in Arizona after Prohibition ended.

After buying the business in 1959 he got a federal wholesaler's permit as Hensley & Co.

Few big cities have only one Budweiser wholesaler, but Phoenix had just 107,000 residents in 1950. Ten years later, the city's population had quadrupled. Hensley's market share catapulted from 20 percent in 1970 to 50 percent in 1987; today it owns nearly two-thirds of the market.

Her father's death in 2000 left Cindy McCain with full control over his company, though she has seldom intervened, executives say.

Cindy McCain has also invested in banks and real estate. She owns more than 10 houses, including rental properties.

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