The National Restaurant Association told its board members to avoid the press in the tumult surrounding allegations first reported in Politico that the association’s former CEO, Herman Cain, sexually harassed two female staffers for the group.
But some board members spurned the suggestion, Politico reports
, and most of them support Republican presidential candidate Cain, who headed the association from 1996 to ’99 and has denied harassing anyone, ever.
“Until proven otherwise, [the association] should back him,” said Bill Anton, a member of the board of directors who was chairman when Cain headed the association’s political action committee.
The National Restaurant Association, which decided several weeks ago not to endorse Cain’s presidential bid, sent an email to board members Monday urging them to avoid the media, Politico reports. And association officials won’t discuss the allegations.
Despite the association’s decision against endorsing Cain, several board members told Politico that they and others plan to raise money for the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO on their own.
The association released an official statement about the furor surrounding Cain on Monday saying, “The incidents in question relate to personnel matters that allegedly took place nearly 15 years ago. Consistent with our long-standing policy, we don’t comment on personnel issues relating to current or former employees.”
Association board members told Politico Monday that the group should stand up for Cain and not offer more comment on the story. “I think they should stay out of it,” said Burton Sack, who chaired the association’s board in 2004 and 2005.
The association went into crisis management mode when it found out about the Politico story several weeks ago, the news service states. It is in a difficult position where it can’t say much, crisis management and public relations officials told Politico.
“If only for legal reasons, they can’t be talking about personnel issues,” said Jim Manley of Quinn Gillespie & Associates.
Crisis communications specialist Marina Ein said that, although Cain needs to clear the air, “the association has a responsibility to protect everybody who works there. That’s their first responsibility.”
The tumult over Cain won’t do much to help the association with its members, Galen Reser, former head of PepsiCo’s Washington operation, told Politico. “Companies aren’t going to want to take on the baggage of the trade association,” he said.
“Companies expect their trade associations to conduct themselves, when it comes to personnel matters, with the highest degree of integrity.”
The fundamental message from company members to trade associations in events like these is “you better handle this,” Reser said. “Fix this fast and deal with it, because we don’t want it on our doorstep.”
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