Cain’s Milwaukee Meltdown: Will Koch Still Love His “Brother from Another Mother”?

Herman Cain is a man who knows what he knows, and apparently doesn't care to know anything else. Then there's the stuff he does know, but is just not gonna tell you.

In a contentious meeting with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Monday, the GOP presidential hopeful not only notably stumbled painfully on questions about his policy toward Libya; he also appeared to accidentally stagger into a reversal of his previously stated policy in favor of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's revocation of the collective bargaining rights of public employees. And when asked if he gained financially from a workplace indoctrination program linked to the billionaire right-wing donor David Koch (a story AlterNet broke last summer), Cain grew visibly irritated while insisting he had not.

When asked for his assessment of President Barack Obama's handling of the revolution in Libya, Cain appeared to draw a blank, telling the editorial board, “I've got all of this stuff twirling around in my head.” He went on to put together a barely coherent answer, saying, “I would have done a better job of determining who the opposition is.”

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Campaign reporters then had their meat, and the Libya piece of the interview became the story of the day. But for Herman Cain, his answer on Libya was likely the least of the pointed questions posed by reporter Daniel Bice that could spell doom for Cain. For in the course of that disastrous meeting, Cain dissed the agenda of David Koch, to whom Cain has strong ties, and gave evasive and irritable answers to questions of potential wrongdoing by his campaign and Cain's own role in a workplace “education” program called Prosperity 101.

Qu'est-ce Que C'est This Collective Bargaining?

The war on the collective bargaining rights of public employees became a fury earlier this year when Walker, elected with the help of Koch's Americans for Prosperity, rammed through a bill that greatly curtailed those rights. Union members and their allies occupied the state capitol building for 18 days in what has become known as the Wisconsin Uprising. Organizing right-wing ground troops in favor of Walker's anti-worker bill was Mark Block, then director of the Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin chapter, and now Cain's campaign manager. And Cain himself worked with Block to build the national organization in its early days, and went on to be a regularly featured speaker at events sponsored by both Americans for Prosperity and its sibling organization, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

In an interview last month with the Journal Sentinel's Craig Gilbert, Cain said he was “right in the corner of Gov. Scott Walker, 100 percent,” with regard to the anti-worker legislation. But in the meeting with the editorial board, he seemed unclear about just what collective bargaining is, saying he was for it unless it placed “an undue burden on the taxpayer,” a position that would seem to be something shy of 100 percent of Walker's — and David Koch's.

Secret Independent Counsel for Campaign Hijinks

In a video of his editorial board appearance (on the last page of this story), Cain stonewalled when asked about questions the Journal Sentinel has raised about the financing of his campaign.

On the same day Politico broke the news about accusations of sexual harassment against Cain, the Journal Sentinel's Daniel Bice broke an explosive story of his own: In conflict with campaign finance law, the Cain campaign appeared to have used a nonprofit organization, Prosperity USA, to pay some $40,000 in campaign expenses.

Prosperity USA, now apparently defunct, according to Bice, was run by Block and Linda Hansen, the executive vice president of the nonprofit Wisconsin Prosperity Network, of which Block claimed to be “the main organizer.” The Wisconsin Prosperity Network is an umbrella for a constellation of right-wing organizations in the state, including the Americans for Prosperity chapter run by Block at the time, and the MacIver Institute, a newish think-tank that was active in the anti-union fight. Hansen is now the Cain campaign's “development director,” i.e., fundraiser.

After Bice's story broke, Block said the campaign had “retained independent counsel” to look into the matter of the possibly illegal campaign financing. During Monday's meeting with Cain, Bice asked the candidate to reveal the name of that independent counsel, and Cain refused.

“No,” Cain replied, “because then people will be camping out on their doorsteps, and we want them to do their job.”

Bice then promised not to camp out on the lawyer's doorstep. “Not doin' it,” Cain replied.

When asked if he's looked into the matter himself, Cain said, “I'm not commenting on that.”

When reminded that this is “a serious issue,” Cain's voice became pitched. “I know it's a serious issue.”

“Let me say this,” Cain added. “…If there were any wrongdoing, we will correct it.”

Is Prosperity 101 Cain's Achilles Heel?

In June, AlterNet broke the story of a for-profit entity run by Linda Hansen called Prosperity 101 — a program designed for employers to present to employees in their workplaces. Together with Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, Cain served as a frontman for the program. At the ostensibly voluntary Prosperity 101 seminars, workers were told how financial and environmental regulations — policies identified with Democrats — could ultimately cost them their jobs. Then those who weren't already registered to vote were either signed up on the spot, or given instructions on where and how to register.

During Cain's meeting with the Journal Sentinel editorial board, Bice asked Cain about his involvement with the program. Cain became visibly angry, looking away from Bice, fuming. “Did you make any money off of that?” Bice asked.

“No,” Cain replied, with a defensive edge to his voice.

He returned his gaze to Bice, adjusted his jacket, and in an agitated tone, said, “Can you just please move on?”

Koch and Cain: Will Blood Prove Thicker Than Scandal?

At the Americans for Prosperity Foundation conference in Washington, DC, earlier this month, Herman Cain got an apparently affectionate laugh out of David Koch when he said, during a speech to the gathering, that he considered himself a sibling to Koch and his brother Charles: “a brother of another mother.”

In its early days, the Cain campaign served Koch well. In touting his “9-9-9” tax plan (based on a combined 9 percent income tax rate, 9 percent corporate tax rate, and a 9 percent national sales tax), Cain effectively pushed several of the other candidates toward embracing a flatter tax system that would benefit billionaires such as Koch. And his popularity, won through snappy one-liners, an engaging personality and an up-from-the-bootstraps personal story, meant that in the early primary and caucus states, Cain would likely pick up delegates who could wield some influence on whomever eventually became the Republican presidential nominee.

The sexual harassment allegations against Cain were likely of no consequence to Koch; they were about Cain. But the campaign finance problems and the Prosperity 101 program reflect more directly on Koch, since the entities involved are all linked to Americans for Prosperity, Koch's gleaming flagship organization.

Cain may yet come to know the limits of brotherly love.