Presidential candidate and former pizza chain magnate Herman Cain was the subject of complaints of "inappropriate behavior" of a sexual nature by two women who worked for him at the National Restaurant Association during the 1990s, Politico reported in an exclusive Sunday night.
The complaints, which were resolved privately with cash payments in the “five figures” to both women, occurred while Cain was head of the association from 1996 to 1999, according to Politico.
citing anonymous sources, reported that:
- The women complained of sexually suggestive behavior by Cain that made them angry and uncomfortable.
- Incidents included conversations allegedly filled with innuendo or personal questions of a sexually suggestive nature and “physical gestures that were not overtly sexual but that made women who experienced or witnessed them uncomfortable and that they regarded as improper in a professional relationship.”
- The two women signed agreements with the restaurant group that gave them financial payouts to leave the association. Both women received separation packages that were in the five-figure range.
- Cain, who has been married for 43 years, told at least one campaign staffer this year about the possibility that claims of sexual harassment could surface. He described it as a case in which he fired an employee in 1990s and the woman alleged sexual misconduct or harassment.
- Cain said he was “vaguely familiar” with the charges, according to his spokesman J.D. Gordon. But his campaign repeatedly declined to respond directly to Politico about whether he ever faced allegations of sexual harassment at the restaurant association.
- The chair, vice chair, and immediate past chairman of the National Restaurant Association board of directors at the time of Cain’s employment there each told Politico they hadn’t heard of any complaints.
Politico reported that its reporter confronted Cain Sunday on the street in Washington, D.C., just after he completed an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” That came after two weeks of trying to get a comment from his campaign.
On Oct. 20, Politico first approached Gordon about whether Cain had been the subject of complaints of sexual harassment.
Gordon didn’t respond for several days but emailed Politico on Oct. 24 that any dispute about Cain’s conduct at the restaurant association “was settled amicably among all parties many years ago.”
“These are old and tired allegations that never stood up to the facts,” Gordon said in an email response to Politico. “This was settled amicably among all parties many years ago, and dredging this up now is merely part of a smear campaign meant to discredit a true patriot who is shaking up the political status quo.”
Gordon added: “Since critics haven’t had much luck in attacking Mr. Cain’s ideas, they are trying to attack him personally.”
On Sunday, Cain told Politico he had “had thousands of people working for me” at different businesses over the years and could not comment “until I see some facts or some concrete evidence.”
“He was then asked, ‘Have you ever been accused, sir, in your life of harassment by a woman?’ the Politico story reported. “He breathed audibly, glared at the reporter and stayed silent for several seconds. After the question was repeated three times, he responded by asking the reporter, ‘Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?’"
Cain was head of the restaurant trade group after he left the job as CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. He frequently describes his running the pizza company but speaks less often about his tenure atop the association.
The association represented about 150,000 food service establishments, had roughly 115 employees and a government affairs budget of nearly $20 million. But it was not known as a top lobbying powerhouse, Politico reported.
Cain was brought in to make it a more of a full-scale lobbying organization. He hired more lobbyists and took a much more public role in advocating for the industry than did his predecessor. Boasting of the shift in his book, Cain noted that, during his tenure, the restaurant association made its first appearance on Fortune magazine’s list of Washington’s 25 most influential interest groups.
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