Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, under pressure within his party to clarify years-old allegations of sexual harassment, blamed a rival, Governor Rick Perry of Texas, for reviving the accusations.
“The actions of the Perry campaign are despicable,” Cain campaign manager Mark Block said on Fox News. “Rick Perry and his campaign owe Herman Cain and his family an apology.”
As the Perry campaign denied any role in the matter, prominent Republican Party figures, including Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and political strategist Karl Rove, urged Cain yesterday to lift confidentiality restrictions on two women who accused him of harassment during his leadership of the National Restaurant Association. Cain has said the harassment charges are false.
Cain’s personal life came under scrutiny as he claimed a lead among Republicans seeking the 2012 presidential nomination, with some surveys placing him ahead of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney among Republican voters nationally. The resolution of the harassment questions could reshape the party’s contest two months before the Iowa caucuses start the nomination process on Jan. 3.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said this morning on NBC’s “Today” show that “this issue and other issues are going to come and go” and that the controversy wouldn’t harm the party’s chances of winning the White House next year. Referring to Cain’s contention that the tip about the harassment allegations came from Perry’s campaign, Priebus said it wasn’t his role to be the “referee in here.”
“We’re not the Sherlock Holmes of the presidential primary field,” he told NBC.
As Cain, 65, was pressed to disclose more about his past, a picture emerged of the former chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza operating in a free-wheeling, free-spending culture during his 1996-99 tenure as chief executive officer of the restaurant association.
Former employees of the association told Bloomberg News that work-related outings frequently featured heavy drinking as lobbyists entertained board members and lawmakers.
Cain was known for lavish spending, they said, racking up cell phone and travel bills that drew accountants’ attention and angered some board members. He won over employees by giving generous raises to many, said three people who worked for or with the group and spoke on condition of anonymity.
There were few checks on Cain’s travel budget as he traveled to chapters across the country, said one former employee.
“I was on the road a lot -- one year, I gave 80 speeches,” Cain said in an Oct. 31 interview on Fox News. “Went to nearly every state because they would have a state restaurant association meeting.”
As he traveled the country for the group, Cain boosted spending on communications back in Washington, following a strategy he called “Mo-Me-Mo” -- for mobilization, messaging and momentum -- said Steve Caldeira, president of the International Franchise Association and Cain’s deputy at the restaurant group. “He built the foundation to make the NRA a major economic voice and force,” Caldeira said.
Trade Group Rankings
In Cain’s first full year at the restaurant association, the group broke into Fortune Magazine’s “Power 25” of trade associations. When he left in 1999, it was ranked number 10, ahead of the American Medical Association and the Teamsters.
With his family in Georgia, the organization paid for Cain to live in the Jefferson, a luxury hotel near the White House, for a period of time, according to a former employee. The Cain campaign didn’t respond to questions about his spending.
Yesterday, a third woman told the Associated Press that she considered filing a complaint against Cain for what she considered aggressive behavior, including inviting her back to his corporate apartment. Two other women at the restaurant association accused Cain of sexual harassment and were paid settlements for their claims, Politico reported on Oct. 30.
A Republican pollster who worked for the restaurant association said yesterday that Cain sexually harassed a low-level staffer he described as “maybe two years out of college” at an Arlington, Virginia, restaurant.
“Everybody was aware of it,” said Chris Wilson, a principal of an Oklahoma-based political consulting firm that is working for a group supporting the Perry campaign, in an interview with KTOK radio in Oklahoma City. “So many people were aware of her situation, the fact she left. Everybody knew with the campaign that this would eventually come up.”
Wilson declined to offer further details to Bloomberg News about the incident, and said he didn’t leak the story to the media.
“I had nothing to do with leaking this in any way, and I’ve never discussed or share this story with any of my clients -- period,” he said in an e-mail.
Cain has offered conflicting answers to questions about the allegations. In a speech at the National Press Club on Oct. 31, he said he was unaware of any financial settlement of sexual harassment claims against him. On Nov. 1, Cain told CNN that the association paid a woman “somewhere in the vicinity of three to six months’ pay” after she complained about him.
Former employees say the organization paid one female staffer a year’s salary -- $35,000 -- in severance after she complained about Cain’s behavior. The second woman, now a spokeswoman for a federal agency in Washington, received a smaller payout, according to the former employees.
Both women signed confidentiality agreements that barred them from discussing the incidents.
Joel Bennett, a Washington-based lawyer for one of the accusers, told Bloomberg News that he planned to send a request today to the restaurant association’s lawyer to free his client from her agreement.
Block refused to say yesterday whether Cain and his aides would ask the association to let the women out of the confidentiality agreements, saying they would address the matter “when it’s appropriate.”
Party officials urged Cain to encourage the association to free the women from their agreement, warning that secrecy will only prolong the scandal -- and its political impact. The AP story on the claim by a third woman was on the front page of today’s Des Moines Register, the state’s largest newspaper.
Get Facts Out
“What are the facts?” Barbour asked on MSNBC. “If there’s some controversy with negative connotations, you want to get all the facts out, all the cards on the table face up as quickly as you can.”
In an interview with Forbes magazine, Cain accused a former consultant to his unsuccessful 2004 Senate campaign in Georgia of leaking the damaging information. Cain said he had discussed the charges with consultant Curt Anderson, now an adviser for Perry, during a conversation about opposition research.
“I don’t recall anyone else being in the room when I told him,” Cain said of Anderson.
Anderson said yesterday he had never heard about the charges until they were reported by Politico.
“I have great respect for Herman and his character and I would never speak ill of him, on the record or off the record,” he said in a statement.
The Perry campaign released a statement denying any involvement in leaking the story.
“There is not one shred of evidence that any member of the Perry campaign had anything to do with the recent stories regarding Herman Cain -- because it isn’t true,” Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan said in the statement. “We first learned of the Cain accusations when we read the story in the news.”
After two days of frequent media appearances, Cain stopped discussing details of the accusations with the press yesterday.
Though scheduled to hold a press conference, he left a speech at a health-care policy conference in Alexandria, Virginia, without taking questions. “Don’t even bother asking me all of these other questions that you all are curious about,” Cain told reporters. “Don’t even bother.”
Cain had planned to use this Washington trip to build support within the party. On Nov. 1, he dined with Republican senators at Bobby Van’s Grill, a downtown steakhouse. After delivering a speech about health care to Republican House members yesterday, he mingled with several dozen lawmakers at the Capitol Hill Club, a popular spot for fundraising.
Several lawmakers said Cain briefly addressed the allegations. They declined to offer details.
Representative Marlin Stutzman, an Indiana Republican, said Cain assured the lawmakers his campaign was handling the allegations.
“That’s what every campaign’s going to go through, especially for president,” Stutzman said. “He’s got to answer it, and people can decide for themselves.”