Faux Outsider: Cain Was a Lobbyist In Bed with Big Tobacco

If you’re having trouble grocking Herman Cain, a recent article in the New York Times will make your mental light bulb shine.

Cain, who has been the next Reagan since he won the straw poll at Florida’s Presidency 5 confab in September, says his main virtue is that he is an outsider to politics. And while it’s true that Cain has never held elected office, he is only an outsider in the Jack Abramoff sense of that word.*

…the role that helped propel Mr. Cain into politics was that of an ultimate Washington insider: industry lobbyist.

From 1996, when he left the pizza company, until 1999, Mr. Cain ran the National Restaurant Association, a once-sleepy trade group that he transformed into a lobbying powerhouse. He allied himself closely with cigarette makers fighting restaurant smoking bans, spoke out against lowering blood-alcohol limits as a way to prevent drunken driving, fought an increase in the minimum wage and opposed a patients’ bill of rights — all in keeping with the interests of the industry he represented.

It was a role that gave him an intimate view of the way Washington works, putting him in close proximity to Republican leaders at the time, including Newt Gingrich, now one of his presidential rivals, and John A. Boehner, now speaker of the House.

Hold the pizza delivery truck a second. Cain befriended the tobacco industry? This helps explain why his chief of staff takes a big ol’ drag off his Marlboro at the end of a recent Herman Cain ad.

Under Mr. Cain’s leadership, the restaurant association opposed higher taxes on cigarettes and the use of federal money to prosecute cigarette makers for fraud…

“The restaurant industry literally became the alter ego of the tobacco industry during that period of time,” Mr. [Matt] Myers [president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids] said in an interview.

The restaurant association relied heavily on R. J. Reynolds for financial support, records show. Mr. Meyne, the Reynolds senior director of public affairs, served on the restaurant group’s board, and Mr. Cain served on the board of Nabisco, which had earlier merged with Reynolds.

In a 1999 memorandum, Mr. Meyne wrote that in previous years his company had given the trade group “as much as nearly $100,000 in cash and much more in in-kind support,” adding, “They have done virtually everything we’ve ever asked, and even appointed us to their board.”

And as for Cain’s claim he’s an outsider because he’s never held elected office…well, let’s just say that’s not for lack of trying. He left his lobbyist job to run for president in 2000, and for Senate from Georgia in 2004. He lost both contests.

Like the other Republicans, Cain curries tea party support, and is a favorite speaker at tea party rallies. His presence is often held up as a “get off the hook about racism free” card when such charges are leveled either at the tea party or at Republicans in general. And even though it has been a generation since Cain was with Godfather’s, he still bills himself as a CEO-turned-candidate.

Mr. Cain, 65, declined to be interviewed for this article. He does not hide his experience at the restaurant group — it is mentioned on his Web site — but on the campaign trail he emphasizes his earlier stint running Godfather’s…

Cain supports himself these days, in addition to presumed previous earnings, through various alliances with the Koch Brothers, who fund both the tea party and ALEC, the rightwing extremist group responsible for identical state legislation restricting abortion, immigration, public education, and voting, and expanding gun rights and prison privatization.

*Ironically, Abramoff’s first job after release from prison for influence peddling was at a Baltimore pizzeria.

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