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The End of the Herman Cain Campaign? (It's Not What You Think)

Sexual harassment allegations aren't the only thing troubling Cain's campaign--there's also the dirty politics of his campaign manager, Mark Block.
 
 
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In a hallway outside the ballroom in the National Press Club, a mustachioed man looked ill at ease as he was mobbed by reporters asking questions about sexual harassment allegations made against his boss, GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain, on the Politico Web site the night before.

Mark Block, whose face is now familiar to thousands as the Smoking Man in the Cain campaign's latest video, told reporters that Cain was unaware of any settlements paid to the two women who made the accusations while Cain served as president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association, as Politico reported. But the reasons for Block's discomfort likely went beyond Cain's situation to his own. Just hours before Politico burst forth with its explosive accusations, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel laid out a case that suggests significant illegal campaign activity on Cain's behalf by a nonprofit organization, Prosperity USA (also known as America's Prosperity Network), controlled by Block and linked to David Koch's Americans for Prosperity. As AlterNet has reported, Block, the former director of AFP's Wisconsin chapter, has long been known for playing dirty in politics.

Pay to Play?

Prosperity USA, described as a 501(c)(3) in its incorporation documents (and which now seems to be defunct), appears to have been footing the bill for Cain campaign expenses, including a highly unusual payment of $100,000 to the right-wing Congress of Racial Equality in advance of a major speech by Cain. Daniel Bice, who writes the Journal Sentinel's No Quarter blog, reports that the payment to CRE appears to have been disbursed from $150,000 in loans raised from unnamed donors. While Bice says that Cain was apparently not paid for that appearance, the New Yorker's Jane Mayer this month uncovered information suggesting that Cain's speaking fees are not directly reported as such on his disclosure forms to the Federal Elections Commission, but are shielded from public view as transactions that take place between his private company and the speaker's bureau representing him. Writes Mayer:

Yet, mysteriously, Cain discloses no payments from the Washington Speakers Bureau on his federal forms. Instead, on his 2011 F.E.C. form, he lists unspecified payments of between $50,000-$100,000 to his company, the New Voice, which he describes as a “public speaking” and “publishing” entity.

A Visit With Mr. Koch

Among Bice's revelations is a record showing that Prosperity USA paid for Block's travel to meet with David Koch, the billionaire right-wing funder behind Americans for Prosperity and its foundation, and AFP president Tim Phillips in Washington, D.C., in January -- after Block was named "chief of staff" of the Cain campaign. Although the records Bice combed through do not specify a date for that trip, we know that both Phillips and Koch were in the nation's capital to celebrate the swearing in of the new congress on January 6, and to see the speaker's gavel passed from Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Koch and Phillips had much to celebrate that day, not only in the transfer of power from the Democrats to the Republicans in the House of Representatives, but also for the high number of Tea Party-allied freshmen lawmakers in the new class who owed their good political fortunes to Koch and Americans for Prosperity. They were particularly successful in Wisconsin, where they helped to elect two new congressmen, Sean Duffy and Reid Ribble, and managed to unseat long-time U.S. Sen. Russell Feingold with their ally, Ron Johnson.

Until he signed on as Herman Cain's campaign manager in December, Block ran the Wisconsin state chapter of Americans for Prosperity. In addition to helping to send a handful of Koch-backed lawmakers to Washington, Block also helped elect Scott Walker to the governor's mansion along with a cadre of right-wingers to the state legislature, where they wasted no time in launching an assault against Wisconsin's public employees and their unions. And it was Block who recruited Herman Cain to run for president.

Taxpayer Subsidy for Cain's Private Jet?

Nonprofit organizations classified as 501(c)(3) under the IRS code are forbidden to engage in electioneering. Yet Prosperity USA lists on a rather messy statement of profit and loss, uncovered by Bice, that it is owed more than $40,000 from Friends of Herman Cain (the official name of the fundraising arm of Cain's presidential campaign), including at least $16,000 for Cain's travel on the charter jets of Hill Aircraft to appear at events sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, as well at an event in Chicago called RightNation, which the statement says Cain attended at the "request of AFP." Hill Aircraft, on its Web site, offers this description of its services: