The PJ Tatler

Herman Cain's 'Smoking Man' Has a Checkered Past

I kind of like this ad by the Herman Cain campaign. It’s unorthodox and politically incorrect, while also a bit on the cheezy side. But it’s turning out to have been a mistake.

Mark Block is the smoking man in the ad; he’s Cain’s chief of staff. And after the ad drew attention to him, he earned the loving attentions of the Associated Press.

In 1997, Block was accused of coordinating campaign activities between a state supreme court justice’s reelection campaign and a special-interest group that promoted school vouchers, in violation of campaign laws. Four years later, Block agreed to a settlement that included a $15,000 fine and a 3-year suspension from running campaigns in the state, but did not require him to admit guilt.

Block told the AP that during that time he was forced to take a job at Target and that his life entered a tailspin. He was arrested twice for drinking and driving, and had his home foreclosed on. He also was issued a tax warrant by the IRS and was sued separately for an unpaid bill.

In 2007, Block was investigated for potentially misleading robo-calls against a referendum to raise money for school construction, although a prosecutor eventually decided that the case was not strong enough to pursue a trial. In 2010, a liberal group in Wisconsin accused Block of trying to suppress minority and college voters, although officials declined to investigate.

Block denied wrongdoing on both counts to the AP.

Liberal groups accuse just about every Republican of suppressing votes, so that accusation doesn’t say anything about Mr. Block. But the rest of the problems described do, and the ad says something about the Cain campaign. Why draw attention to Block by having him star in an ad? Cain may not have known about Block’s troubles, but Block surely did and he knew that they could pose a threat to his candidate. His starring in that ad runs the risk of derailing Cain yet again. So far Cain has survived a series of derailings unscathed, and he’s even rising in the polls, but his luck may run out at some point. There’s no need to give Lady Luck a reason to turn on him.