One of ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s biggest business partners is an Arizona developer a House committee accused earlier this year of using political ties to access—and ultimately bribe—the Trump administration into letting a massive Grand Canyon state project proceed.
Palin revealed her dealings with Scottsdale-based El Dorado Holdings in disclosures she made to the House clerk’s office as part of her bid for Alaska’s vacant congressional district. The filings show that the one-time Republican vice-presidential hopeful holds stakes worth as much as half a million dollars in a pair of limited liability companies El Dorado controls.
The Palin campaign did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
El Dorado became the epicenter of national controversy when a U.S. Fish and Wildlife field supervisor claimed in 2019 that he’d come under politically motivated pressure from then-President Donald Trump’s Department of the Interior to reverse his position on permitting requirements for a 28,000-unit planned development in Benson, Arizona. In May of this year, the House Committee on Natural Resources sent a criminal referral to the Department of Justice, urging it to investigate what Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) described as a case of “criminal bribery.”
The committee’s investigation uncovered covert correspondence carried out over non-government channels between El Dorado executives and top staffers at the Department of the Interior in 2017. These communications culminated in an undisclosed meeting in Billings, Montana, between El Dorado founder Mike Ingram and then-Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, who would later assume the agency’s top job. Subsequent to that secret summit, Ingram and several of his associates made large donations to the Trump re-election effort, while high-level Interior officials leaned on the Fish and Wildlife Service supervisor, reportedly telling him a “high-level politico” wanted him to change his determination.
A source close to the committee told The Daily Beast that they believed a third party acted as an interlocutor between Ingram, who formerly co-owned the Arizona Diamondbacks and the presidential appointees.
“That was something we wondered, how he got hooked up with the Trump administration, how he made those connections,” the source said. “It seems clear it was somebody very high up who helped facilitate those introductions and meetings.”
However, the source said they did not know whether that person was Palin. Curiously, late Alaska Rep. Don Young—whose passing in March created the potential opening for Palin—also held a stake in one of the same El Dorado entities as his would-be replacement. Young’s widow, who has maintained a residence in Arizona for some years, did not respond to requests for comment.
Young himself served on the Natural Resources Committee for decades, and became its chairman emeritus in 2017. The Daily Beast could not find any record of another member of Congress holding investments in an El Dorado entity.
Neither of the limited liability companies in which Young or Palin invested appears to have been directly involved in the federal permitting process for the project in question.
El Dorado attorney Lanny Davis maintained to The Daily Beast that neither Palin nor Young ever assisted his client in contacting administration officials and insisted Ingram knew both Bernhardt and his predecessor Ryan Zinke from their pre-Trump careers. Davis, who became famous as counsel to ex-President Bill Clinton, bashed what he described as the “innuendo” in the criminal referral and deplored the committee for not allowing him to contest their allegations in a public hearing. He noted that the project had received approvals under the Obama administration and that the Army Corps of Engineers long opposed the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision and argued his client only ever sought a determination from the department based on the law.
“There was never anything done by either one to introduce or promote Mike Ingram to anyone in the Trump administration re: the Villages project or to connect to the Trump campaign or PACS or anything to do with Trump,” Davis wrote in an email to The Daily Beast, comparing his client to the victims of the 1950s ‘Red Scare’. “This is more reminiscent of Joe McCarthy than progressive Democrats who should be guided by the fundamental constitutional principles of civil liberties, due process of law, and the presumption of innocence.”
Davis told The Daily Beast that Palin and Young both invested in one of the El Dorado LLCs in 2014, and Palin put money into the other in 2016—the same year the ex-governor posted photos on Facebook of herself with Ingram in “prime seats” at a Diamondbacks game. The attorney further asserted that El Dorado had never granted Palin any extra equity in its projects beyond what she paid for.
The two met, he claimed, through the late Sen. John McCain while Palin was his running mate in the 2008 presidential race. He added that the Department of Justice has yet to contact or question his client.
Palin will face fellow Republican Nicholas Begich, a former Young campaign chairman, and Democratic former state lawmaker Mary Peltola in the special election on August 16.