POLITICS

Top Cain aide has checkered past

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ATLANTA (AP) - He is the mustachioed man who takes a rebellious drag on a cigarette in the Herman Cain Internet ad gone viral.

Meet Mark Block, Cain's unorthodox campaign manager. Perhaps no one is as responsible for the Georgia businessman's meteoric rise in the presidential polls than Block, a Republican strategist and tea party leader who has left a trail questionable - and possibly illegal - campaign work behind him.

Block has been accused of voter suppression and was banned from running Wisconsin political campaigns for three years to settle accusations he coordinated a judge's re-election campaign with a special interest group.

Records show Block has faced foreclosure on two different homes, a tax warrant by the IRS and a lawsuit for an unpaid bill. He's been busted for drunken driving - twice, according to court records.

On the presidential trail, some former Cain staffers say Block broke promises. Traditional GOP strategists have been scratching their heads at his renegade strategy to win the White House, all but ignoring some early states in favor a book tour and a swings through states without early primaries.

Those who know Block say he's long been a maverick who isn't afraid to push the envelope.

"Mark doesn't go to the how-to-run a campaign guide book when deciding how to do things," said Jared Thomas, who was a state director for the anti-tax group Americans for Prosperity Georgia when Block led the Wisconsin chapter.

"He's all about advancing conservative ideals and conservative goals and he really doesn't mid stepping on toes in the process."

Block's entry into politics came early. In 1974, he became the first 18-year-old ever elected to office in Wisconsin capturing a seat on the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors.

But Block's reputation was tarnished when in 2001 he agreed to pay $15,000 and was banned from running Wisconsin political campaigns for three years to settle accusations that he illegally coordinated state Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox's 1997 re-election campaign with a special interest group that favored school vouchers. Wilcox also paid a $10,000 forfeiture and later cast the deciding vote upholding the legality of vouchers in Wisconsin's pioneering program.

Unable to make a living in politics, Block worked for a time stocking shelves at a Target.

But Block engineered a comeback when he was hired in 2005 as the state director in Wisconsin of Americans for Prosperity, the group founded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. He also helped organize the tea party in Wisconsin in that role and met Cain, the former Godfather's Pizza chief executive who'd come aboard as a speaker after a failed U.S. Senate campaign in Georgia.

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