Herman Cain’s smoking campaign manager, Mark Block, was the Koch Brothers’ man in Wisconsin until two days before Governor Scott Walker’s inauguration. That’s when he made the switch from controversy-plagued campaigning at the state level to controversy-plagued campaigning at the national level.
In January, 2005, Block appeared at Walker’s inaugural ball in a tuxedo to celebrate what “we did” to elect Walker, whose assaults on collective bargaining rights and public education and services sparked some of the largest protests in recent American history and who now faces the prospect of a citizen-sponsored recall.
Block’s presence at Walker’s inaugura was something of a triumphal return to the fold for a veteran political player after he had been unwillingly sidelined politically for a number of years. In 2001, Block paid a $15,000 fine and agreed to refrain from participating in campaigns in an agreement that ended an investigation of illegal coordination between a 1997 Wisconsin Supreme Court campaign he ran and the smearing of the opposition candidates by a supposedly “independent” group.
Now Block’s in trouble again, facing allegations that he is back to the old game of coordinating between a political campaign and a supposedly “independent” nonprofit group to position Cain as a presidential contender. Media reports suggest that groups Block set up and operated were moving money back and forth between nonprofit organizations and the campaign in order to benefit Cain’s campaign. There are also indications that Block—and Cain—may have been involved in an elaborate scheme to shift money between Block’s groups, a speakers’ bureau and organizations that would give Cain high-profile speaking gigs.
The scandal surrounding Block, coming parallel to another controversy involving Cain’s alleged harassment of women who worked for him when he headed the National Restaurant Association, could derail the Cain campaign—or at least its manager. Even with the collapse of so many campaign finance laws, following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the sort of coordination in which Block is alleged to have engaged violates the law.
Block is certainly not new to controversy.
But if this scandal trips him up, it will be a quick fall from grace for a man who was essentially drummed out of politics a decade ago and then made his way back to a position where, because of the Cain’s campaign’s prominence, a video of Block smoking and talking up the race became a national Internet sensation.
After this period in the wilderness, when he was barred from running or even volunteering for campaigns from 2001 to 2004, Block was brought brought back into the political game by the billionaires Charles and David Koch and the political operation, Americans for Prosperity, that they funded. AFP is, of course, the group that ginned up the “Tea Party” movement as a vehicle to elect conservative, pro-corporate Republicans.