IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Facing concerns from supporters in Iowa, Herman Cain's presidential campaign tried to conceal the role of a top adviser who had been ousted as leader of a gay pride group in Wisconsin amid a financial scandal, a former staffer has alleged in legal testimony.
Cain's former Iowa straw poll coordinator, Kevin Hall, made the allegation in a letter applying for unemployment benefits and in testimony during a hearing last week. The Associated Press obtained the letter, supporting documents he submitted and audio of the hearing from Iowa Workforce Development.
A Cain campaign lawyer did not dispute Hall's allegations during the hearing and Administrative Law Judge Bonny Hendricksmeyer awarded benefits, ruling he resigned only after the campaign tried to get him involved in the alleged cover-up and changed the conditions of his job.
The testimony sheds some light on the campaign's stumbles after the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza initially generated enthusiasm among conservatives. Cain finished fifth in the straw poll and seems stuck among the bottom tier of Republican candidates.
Hall said he left the campaign June 30 after it became clear that promises made by Cain staffers that the candidate would spend much of July and August campaigning in Iowa to place strongly in the straw poll would be broken. Cain spent a handful of days in July in Iowa before returning in August before the straw poll for a bus tour across the state.
Cain's Iowa director Tina Goff also has said she quit at the same time because of Cain's lack of commitment to Iowa.
Cain spokeswoman Ellen Carmichael said Tuesday that Hall was "a disgruntled former staffer" who only worked for the campaign 22 days and his claims should be viewed with skepticism. She noted the bus tour spanned the state and that Cain had been to Iowa two dozen times, even if field workers wanted even more of his time.
The alleged cover-up centers around the role of Scott Toomey, treasurer of Cain's political action committee and senior political adviser thorugh May. Hall wrote that Toomey's sexual orientation and allegations of misconduct in his role as treasurer of the Madison Pride Board, which hosted an annual parade in Wisconsin's capital, "had become an issue" for several Cain supporters.
Madison Pride said in 2008 that its board removed Toomey as treasurer after learning bills related to its 2007 event had not been paid and discovering other "financial discrepancies" that it said Toomey had failed to report. The group apologized to its supporters, was forced to scale back its 2008 event and eventually folded.
"It was in the paper that he was the person responsible for that financial mess," recalled Steve Starkey, a Madison gay rights activist who knew Toomey.
Starkey said Toomey moved to Florida and "went underground" after the scandal. He said his research later found that Toomey's promotional company also had been accused in court of not paying vendors. Toomey filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and reported more than $20,000 in pending legal judgments against him from companies and a credit union, court records show.
Toomey declined comment Tuesday by e-mail.
In response to a question in Iowa on June 6, Cain said he would have no problem appointing gay staff members to work in the White House as long as they were qualified. That prompted some conservative bloggers to point out Toomey's role with the campaign.
Hall said that on June 9, his second day on the job, campaign spokeswoman Ellen Carmichael told the staff that Toomey was no longer involved in the campaign in any capacity and they should tell that to anyone who asked. Hall said he learned weeks later that Toomey was still "very much involved" as an outside consultant despite what he and others had been telling the media and supporters.
Hall said he was not bothered by Toomey's background but aides knew it exposed Cain to charges of hypocrisy.
"A conservative candidate, Mr. Cain is on the record as stating that he believes homosexuality is a sin and a choice. And they know that, if his top adviser, his highly paid adviser, is openly gay that it would cast a negative light on Mr. Cain and would cost him in his efforts to become president," he testified. "Basically the campaign was trying to cover up the fact that Mr. Toomey was still involved. They asked ... me to help them cover up that fact."
Carmichael said she's never spoken to Hall but acknowledged instructing Goff that Toomey "is no longer a staffer, which was the 100 percent truth." She said Toomey left the campaign's employment in May and he later did work through a consulting firm he formed. She said Toomey is no longer a Cain staffer or consultant but "his sexuality is not this campaign's business" and not the reason for his departure.
Hall testified that campaign manager Mark Block told him June 29 the campaign would conceal Toomey's continued employment by paying his newly-formed consulting firm so his name would not show up in disclosure filings. Filings with the Federal Election Commission show Toomey, of Chicago, was last paid salary from the campaign June 13. The Soarin' Group, which Hall testified was Toomey's firm, started receiving payments the same month.
Hendricksmeyer ruled Hall resigned "due to a change in the contract of hire" and said the alleged cover-up could have damaged his career as a political consultant.
"The presence of the gay person on the campaign was misrepresented to the staff, which caused Mr. Hall and others to inadvertently misrepresent the fact to others," Hendricksmeyer wrote. "(Hall's) credibility and his future job prospects would have suffered. It is possible if the situation had been discovered it would have also created a negative impact on (Hall's) job duties. He felt it was possible the candidate would lose credibility and the straw poll results would be very poor."