(Updates with Cain refusing to comment today in seventh paragraph. For more campaign news, see ELECT <GO>.)
Nov. 2 (Bloomberg) -- The campaign of Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, calling reports of years-old complaints about sexual harassment a “witch hunt,” says supporters have rallied with above-average fundraising.
Cain, who has reported raising $5.3 million for his campaign, collected more than $400,000 on Oct. 31, the day he first faced questions about his personal conduct as head of the National Restaurant Association during the 1990s, according to campaign chief of staff Mark Block. He said in a statement that the day’s donations “doubled his normal daily average.”
Cain, first saying that day that he was unaware of any financial settlement of sexual harassment claims against him, later said the restaurant association paid a woman “maybe three months’ salary” after she complained about him.
Yesterday, on CNN, Cain called it an “agreement” with the woman, not a “settlement,” and said, “It was somewhere in the vicinity of three to six months’ pay.”
The National Restaurant Association paid another female staffer a year’s salary -- $35,000 -- in severance following the complaint against Cain, according to the New York Times, citing three unnamed people familiar with the matter. Cain has said he doesn’t know the other woman’s name, and has offered different accounts of a financial settlement with one woman.
“The way I explain that contradiction is because when I first heard the word, settlement, I thought legal settlement,” Cain said in an interview on Fox News. “I didn’t think that there was a legal settlement, but an agreement.”
Today, following an appearance at a health-care policy conference in Alexandria, Virginia, Cain refused to answer questions from reporters. As hotel security guards pushed photographers out of his path, Cain moved quickly through the reporters shouting, “Excuse me.” Block said the campaign would answer questions when “appropriate.”
Along with his description of an encounter that may have made the woman uncomfortable, the issue of a legal settlement was one of several details in an evolving account of Cain’s conduct as head of the restaurant Association from 1996-1999.
Joel Bennett, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer for a woman who accused Cain of sexual harassment, said he may ask the restaurant association to free her from a confidentiality agreement signed with her settlement. Bennett told CNN’s Anderson Cooper last night: “She’s naturally concerned about all of the publicity that’s coming up 12 years after the fact.”
The woman, a career-service federal employee, has been “very upset about this since the story broke last Sunday because Mr. Cain has been giving the impression she came out and made false allegations,” Bennett said on CNN. “My client made a good faith, honest complaint of sexual harassment.”
Bennett told Bloomberg News he plans to meet with his client tonight. “We will decide whether to contact the National Restaurant Association directly at that time,” he said in e- mail.
Cain was asked on Fox News if he would request that the association release the woman from the confidentiality agreement. “There are legal implications associated with that that I am just not familiar with,” Cain said.
He said he doesn’t know the name of a second woman cited in a Politico report about the harassment allegations -- and Bennett said he represents only one of the women. Asked about an account that Cain had invited a woman to his hotel room, Cain said: “I am sure I haven’t done that, absolutely sure.”
Cain, saying he was falsely accused of sexual harassment while running the association, first told an audience at the National Press Club in Washington on Oct. 31 that he was unaware of any financial settlement of the allegations.
He later told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren the settlement was “maybe three months’ salary or something like that.”
The varying accounts of episodes from Cain’s past have emerged in the midst of his increasingly successful bid for the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential nomination. In a recent poll among Republicans in Iowa, the former Godfather’s Pizza chief executive is in a statistical tie with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for the lead.
Cain’s handling of the matter could hinder a candidacy that already has encountered stumbling blocks with issues in the race, according to Republican strategist Mark Corallo.
“I look at the sex scandals I’ve worked on, and on a scale of 1 to 10, this is a 1,” Corallo said in an interview yesterday. “But if he doesn’t start handling it right, it goes to like a 4 or a 5.”
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, the senior Republican in the state, downplayed the importance of the controversy for Cain in an interview yesterday. “I don’t see that it’s going to have a big impact,” he said. “Iowans are focused on jobs.”
Cain also has told interviewers that his behavior may have been misinterpreted by women at the restaurant association. He told Bloomberg News the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had investigated the claim of one woman.
Politico reported on Oct. 30 that at least two female employees of the restaurant association complained to officials after Cain acted in a sexually suggestive way. The women, unnamed in the report, received separation packages in the five- figure range, according to Politico.
’Didn’t Touch Her’
On Van Susteren’s program, Cain said the group’s general counsel came to him at the association and told him a woman had complained of sexual harassment. Cain said he recalled her standing in the door of his office once, “and I made a gesture. ‘You’re the same height as my wife,’ and brought my hand -- didn’t touch her -- up to my chin and said, ‘You’re the same height of my wife because my wife comes up to my chin.’”
Appearing at the National Press Club luncheon Oct. 31, Cain said, “I have never sexually harassed anyone.”
“As far as a settlement, I am unaware of any sort of settlement,” he said, adding: “I hope it wasn’t for much, because I didn’t do anything.”
Dismissing the newly reported allegations as a “witch hunt,” Cain said, “There’s nothing else there to dig up.”
Cain faces this new scrutiny as recent polls show him picking up support in the race for the Republican nomination.
A Des Moines Register survey of likely caucus-goers in Iowa, the state hosting the first presidential nominating contest in January, shows Cain claiming the support of 23 percent, Romney 22 percent. A Quinnipiac University poll today shows Cain favored among 30 percent of Republicans surveyed nationally, Romney 23 percent, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich 10 percent, and Texas Governor Rick Perry 8 percent.
On Oct. 31, the day his campaign reports above-average fundraising, Cain told WHO-AM in Des Moines, a widely heard station in Iowa: “The Cain train is staying on track, and we are making sure that we don’t allow these distractions from former employees and opponents to really get us off message.”
--With assistance from Seth Stern and Steven Sloan in Washington and John McCormick in Chicago. Editors: Mark Silva, Justin Blum
To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Lerer in Washington at email@example.com; Alison Fitzgerald in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
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