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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Herman Cain's sexual harassment fiasco captures eyeballs, but campaign finance story is more interesting

So Herman Cain, the former pizza company CEO and talk radio host who's become a leading GOP contender to face President Barack Obama, has found himself in a sexual harassment imbroglio. Now he's trying to explain what happened. And, as he is wont to do, singing.

Politico reported late Sunday night that, while Cain was president of the National Restaurant Association between 1996 and 1999, two women accused Cain of sexual harassment. Cain's denied the allegations, calling the controversy a "witch hunt." Here's how the GOP candidate explained one woman's allegations to Fox News host Greta Van Susteren:

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you remember any of it?

CAIN: I remember one that was in the claim, and that is, in my office — and this has come about just during the day as I have tried to recollect what happened back then. Now, let me first make sure — I recused myself and it was handled by two of my staff members. And they were — one of them is an officer level. So once it was resolved, I wasn't involved, don't recall what, quote, unquote, "settlement," termination — I don't know what it was.

But here's the one incident that I recall as the day has gone on. She was in my office one day, and I made a gesture saying, Oh — and I was standing close to her. And I made a gesture, You're the same height as my wife, and brought my hand — didn't touch her — up to my chin and said, You're the same height of my wife because my wife comes up to my chin, my wife of 43 years.

And that was put in there as something that made her uncomfortable as part of the sexual harassment charge.

Well, that sounds awkward. (Here's a 17-minute video and full transcript of his sitdown with Van Susteren.)

Whether this episode — with all the confusion over what happened, whether settlements were made, and who knew what when — hurts Cain's chances of winning the GOP nomination is difficult to tell. But lost in yesterday's headlines about the sexual harassment controversy was another story that might cause a bigger headache for Cain.

According to the Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel, Cain's campaign received nearly $40,000 from a Wisconsin-based charity founded by two of his top aides. The Washington Post reports:

Citing internal financial documents, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that a Wisconsin tax-exempt charity called Prosperity USA footed the bill for about $40,000 worth of iPads, chartered airplanes and other expenses as Cain’s campaign got off the ground early this year.

Expenses totaling $37,372 are listed in the group’s financial records as “due from FOH,” or Friends of Herman Cain, the name of his campaign committee, the newspaper said. It is not clear whether Cain repaid the alleged debts, which are not listed in his personal or campaign disclosures.

Such payments are forbidden under federal tax and election laws, because nonprofit charities are not allowed to donate money or services to political campaigns, according to election law experts.

“It looks like a law school exam on potential campaign finance violations,” said Lawrence H. Norton of Womble Carlyle, a former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission. “Many of these payments would be prohibited contributions under federal election law.”

Cain told Fox News yesterday that he and his campaign staff were unaware of the report. Block, his campaign manager, told the Post that they've asked "outside counsel" to investigate the matter.

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