GOP Hopeful Herman Cain: David Koch's Stalking Horse?
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For Mark Block, chief of staff for GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, it's been a good couple of weeks. In fact, it's been a good couple of years -- years Block spent at the helm of the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity, where he helped win election for the likes of Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Ron Johnson.
When, after those and other successful efforts, Block left AFP in December to run the quixotic presidential campaign of a former fast-food magnate, political wags were scratching their heads. But to those at the top of the Americans for Prosperity heap, Block's charge to run Cain's campaign may just be his most important job yet. For if Cain does well enough in the GOP primaries to win more than a handful of delegates to the Republican National Convention next year, he could hold significant sway over the party platform, forcing the nominated candidate to run on the Koch agenda.
Despite the guffaws that greeted Cain's entry into the presidential arena, Block's candidate is ascendant in the polls, even gleaning a flattering profile this week in the New York Times, a newspaper that people on Block's side of the fence sometimes refer to as Pravda (the defunct state-run paper of the Soviet Union). With his pugilistic sound bites, business background, neo-libertarian pronouncements, and anomalous status as African American amid the ranks of the Tea Partiers, Cain has captured media attention. Most recently, Cain made waves when Think Progress quoted him telling an audience in Iowa, where the religious right holds sway in the Republican presidential caucuses, that he wouldn't hesitate to appoint an openly gay person to his cabinet "because they're not going to try to put sharia law in our laws."
What goes unremarked in such profiles is Cain's connection to the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the organization founded (with its sibling organization, Americans for Prosperity) by David Koch, and chaired by Koch himself. Until he signed on as Cain's campaign manager last December, Block was state director for the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity.
Not only is Cain a frequent speaker at AFP Foundation events, he was also, by his own account, tapped by Block to be one of the faces of Prosperity 101, a workplace seminar program, designed for employers to present to their employees at "voluntary" workplace gatherings where they are told that the legislative initiatives typically embraced by Democrats -- health-care reform, energy reform, higher taxes for the wealthiest Americans -- could so hurt their employers as to force layoffs. The program was set in motion during the lead-up to the 2010 elections. (AlterNet, working in collaboration with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute, published an exposé on Prosperity 101 last week.)
Not long after Block sold Cain on Prosperity 101, Block was on a roll. At a February 2010 Tea Party rally in Sheboygan (video), Block told the audience that he wouldn't be satisfied until membership in the Wisconsin AFP chapter equaled the membership of the state teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council. Indeed, the membership numbers for his AFP chapter were moving upward, and the 2010 midterm elections were looking competitive for a number of candidates who had earned the favor of Americans for Prosperity: gubernatorial contender Scott Walker, U.S. Senate candidate Ron Johnson, and House of Representatives hopefuls Sean Duffy and Reid Ribble. All of these candidates went on to win their races, with Johnson, despite a notable absence of charisma, defeating long-time Sen. Russell Feingold, and Scott Walker going into the annals of Wisconsin history for having ignited 18 days of protest at the state capitol in Madison when he pushed a virulently anti-union bill through the state legislature in the guise of "budget repair."