Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy.
The campaign of Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain took another hit on Monday when a fourth woman emerged to accuse him of sexual harassment in the 1990s. But the allegations of sexual harassment are not the only controversies surrounding Cain. Also on Monday, the Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy filed a complaint asking the Internal Revenue Service to investigate whether one of his top aides has used tens of thousands of dollars from a tax-exempt nonprofit organization to fund Cain’s political activities. Citing leaked financial records, the Center says Cain’s campaign manager, Mark Block, used at least $40,000 from his group, Prosperity USA, to pay for Cain’s private jets, air travel and computers when he was exploring a presidential bid. Block founded Prosperity USA just last year. The leaked records cited in the complaint also suggest extensive financial ties between Block’s Prosperity USA, the Cain campaign, and the right-wing advocacy group founded by billionaire David Koch, Americans for Prosperity. Block stepped down from heading the Wisconsin arm of Americans for Prosperity to run Cain’s campaign. We speak with Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, about its request that the IRS investigate the group’s tax-exempt status, and other ways Block may have been funneling money to political campaigns. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: The campaign of Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain took another hit Monday when a fourth woman emerged to accuse him of sexual harassment in the '90s. Sharon Bialek is the first of Cain's accusers to publicly identify herself, following three others who remain anonymous. At a news conference, Bialek said Cain groped her and tried to force her to commit a sexual act. She was a former employee of Cain’s when he headed the National Restaurant Association and says the incident took place when she came to him seeking help finding another job. Cain’s campaign has issued a blanket denial that he committed any harassment, but has declined to specifically address Bialek’s claims.
The allegations of sexual harassment aren’t the only controversies surrounding Cain. Also Monday, the Center for Media and Democracy, a Wisconsin-based watchdog group, filed a complaint asking the Internal Revenue Service to investigate whether a top aide has used tens of thousands of dollars from a tax-exempt nonprofit to fund Cain’s political activities. Citing leaked financial records, the Center for Media and Democracy says Cain’s campaign manager, Mark Block, used at least $40,000 from his group Prosperity USA to pay for Cain’s private jets, air travel, computers, when he was exploring a presidential bid. Block founded Prosperity USA just last year.
The Center for Media and Democracy is asking the IRS to investigate the group’s tax-exempt status as well as any other ways Block may have been funneling money to political campaigns.
The leaked records cited in the complaint also suggest extensive financial ties between Block’s Prosperity USA, the Cain campaign, and the right-wing advocacy group founded by the billionaire David Koch, Americans for Prosperity. Block stepped down from heading the Wisconsin arm of Americans for Prosperity to run Cain’s campaign.
Lisa Graves is with us now, executive director of Center for Media and Democracy, which filed the IRS complaint.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Explain further.
LISA GRAVES: Sure. We filed a complaint yesterday to ask the IRS to take a closer look at Mark Block and his activities. What we’ve seen in Wisconsin is that he’s created a number of nonprofit groups, all—almost all of which share the "Prosperity" name—Prosperity USA, Americans for Prosperity Network, Prosperity 101, Wisconsin Center for Economic Prosperity. You name it, he’s basically branded it. And we know, from the documents that were leaked last week, that Prosperity USA did provide money to provide jets for the Cain campaign. We also know from those documents that it also fronted money for the Americans for Prosperity tour that Mr. Cain took earlier this year.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to remind people who Mark Block is—the latest campaign ad for presidential hopeful Herman Cain that went viral, in part because the ad ends up with an odd clip of his chief of staff, Mark Block, taking a drag on a cigarette, then blowing smoke into the camera.
MARK BLOCK: We’ve run a campaign like nobody’s ever seen. But then, America’s never seen a candidate like Herman Cain. We need you to get involved, because, together, we can do this. We can take this country back.
AMY GOODMAN: Up until January, Mark Block served as the Wisconsin director of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers-funded organization. The ad surprised some, since Herman Cain is a cancer survivor. In 2006, he was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer, which had spread to his liver. Lisa Graves?
LISA GRAVES: That’s right. I mean, the ad was surprising. It was also surprising that they would feature Mark Block. Mark Block is someone who has a notorious history in Wisconsin. He was subject to one of the stiffest sanctions ever in Wisconsin history as a result of a previous election in which there were allegations that there was undue coordination between a nonprofit group and an election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. He was barred from politics in Wisconsin for three years, and he paid a $15,000 fine to settle those allegations. He next emerged as the leader of David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity in Wisconsin. And now these allegations come forward.
AMY GOODMAN: What was it that Herman Cain said? "Just so I can clarify this for the media, this may be a breaking news announcement for the media: I am the Koch brothers’ brother from another mother."
LISA GRAVES: That’s right. He said that at the convention this past weekend that Americans for Prosperity had in Washington, D.C. And there’s no doubt that the ties between David Koch, Mr. Cain and Mr. Block run deep. Mr. Block appears to have created a number of organizations to help promote the visibility of Mr. Cain, including Prosperity 101, which we believe is a for-profit organization that promotes Mr. Cain’s speaking to businesses around the country, including during the election in Wisconsin last year at a number of businesses in key locations in the state, leading up to the elections.
AMY GOODMAN: Lisa, you talk about unusual financial payments for Cain’s campaign.
LISA GRAVES: That’s right. There are certainly the unusual and what we believe to be the barred payments for Herman Cain’s campaign, that are evidenced in the documents, but there are also other unusual payments in those records, including payments to the woman who wrote the song that has—is the theme song for the Herman Cain campaign. Those payments, at least some of them, came out of the nonprofit charity group Prosperity USA.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about a database that the Koch brothers have funded?
LISA GRAVES: Well, I believe that, through American for Prosperity, the Koch brothers have launched a new effort to basically unite in a database a number of these right-wing grassroots activists that they are pursuing, to basically affect the election this coming year. We do know that Koch Industries’ PAC also is—has formulated a website that helps basically indoctrinate potential voters coming into this next election.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, people may be listening to this, watching this, and thinking, I mean, this is just all about money in politics, that’s corrupting everything. What makes this different, Lisa?
LISA GRAVES: Well, I think, in this instance, particularly with respect to Mr. Block, what you have is someone who’s the head of a campaign, who’s also the head of the PAC for that campaign, who’s also the head of a charity, and is the head, or at least the founder, of a number of charities. And so, you have this confluence around Mr. Block. With respect to David Koch and the Koch brothers’ enterprises, what you see is that Bob Dylan’s statement that "money doesn’t talk, it screams" is true. They’re having a tremendous impact influencing the primary process within the Republican Party.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what does it mean for you to call for the IRS to investigate? And has the IRS responded?
LISA GRAVES: We have had no response from the IRS yet, but we do believe that it’s important to raise this to the IRS, because there is a bar within the tax code on charities using non—tax-free donations to fund a political campaign. Those charitable donations should not be used like a bank or a credit card for a political campaign. And that’s what looks—that’s what it looks like happened here. So we hope the IRS will investigate, and we hope they’ll help take a closer look at the thin veil, the porous veil, between Mark Block, Mark Block’s various enterprises.
AMY GOODMAN: Lisa Graves, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy. And we will link to your report at our website, democracynow.org.
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