Top Cain aide has checkered past

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.

In Cain's new memoir, he writes that he and Block bonded when they were paired together in a car for a whirlwind eight-stop day-and-a half tour to launch new AFP chapters.

Still, It wasn't long before Block's campaign work was being questioned again.

In 2007, a local prosecutor investigated the group's robo-calls against a proposed $119 million school building referendum that would have raised property taxes. The prosecutor concluded the calls were misleading and distorted the impact of the referendum on taxpayers, and urged the group and Block to "scrupulously adhere to the requirements of Wisconsin elections and campaign financing law."

In 2010, a liberal group, One Wisconsin Now, said it had obtained an audio recording of a tea party meeting that indicated Block was involved in a devious effort to try to prevent legal voters from casting ballots in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods.

A tea party organizer says on the audio that AFP had agreed to pay for sending a mailer to mostly Democratic-leaning minority and student voters, and then use any of them returned as undeliverable to support their challenges at the polls on election day.

One Wisconsin Now called it a notorious voter suppression scheme known as caging, but law enforcement officials did not investigate.

Working for Cain, Block has been accused by former Iowa staffer Kevin Hall of trying to cover up Cain's employment of Scott D. Toomey. Toomey was at the center of a financial scandal when he was part of a gay pride group in Madison but later became a top adviser to Cain. Hall said Block told him to tell supporters that Toomey was not involved in the campaign and they simply had Toomey continue working as an outside consultant, not a paid staffer.

Hall also complained that Block told him Cain would not spend as much time and money competing in the Ames straw poll in August as Hall was promised when he was hired.

In "This is Herman Cain!," the GOP presidential candidate writes that Block thinks outside the box.

"In my case, thinking way out of the box. And that's one of the reasons we have a great relationship," Cain wrote.

That Block is featured in an offbeat Internet ad surprises no one who knows him.

"We've run a campaign like nobody's ever seen," Block says in the spot. "But then America's never seen a candidate like Herman Cain."