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Mark Block was the State Director of the Wisconsin chapter of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity and the chief of staff for Herman Cain's 2012 presidential campaign. He has also been involved in a variety of other right-wing groups. 
On November 7, 2011, the Center for Media and Democracy filed a request asking that the Internal Revenue Service investigate Prosperity USA, a tax exempt group founded and led by Block, for possibly violating the IRS prohibition against charities participating in political campaigns.  The Center also asked the IRS to look into other groups associated with Block for potential tax code violations.
The Koch brothers -- David and Charles -- are the right-wing billionaire co-owners of Koch Industries. As two of the richest people in the world, they are key funders of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). In SourceWatch, key articles on the Kochs include: Koch Brothers, Koch Industries, Americans for Prosperity, American Encore, and Freedom Partners.
- 1 Ties to the Koch Brothers
- 2 Hermain Cain Presidential Campaign
- 3 Controversies
- 4 Related Groups
- 5 Related SourceWatch articles
- 6 External resources
- 7 References
Ties to the Koch Brothers
Americans for Prosperity (AFP), whose Wisconsin chapter was formerly headed by Block, was co-founded by David Koch and continues to receive funding from sources connected to the Koch brothers. The Center for Media and Democracy reported that AFP was also listed on financial documents for Block's Prosperity USA, which apparently expected that AFP would reimburse some travel expenses incurred by Herman Cain's campaign. Many of the Cain campaign's staff had formerly worked for AFP, and Cain himself was a keynote speaker at AFP's national conference in 2011.
In October 2011, Block made an appearance on MSNBC's The Daily Rundown "to deny that the [Cain] campaign [was] “a front” for the billionaire Koch brothers, joking, “if they are donating to us, their payments are past due." Block told the show's host "that he ha[d]n't seen or spoken with the Koch brothers in about a year, and that the brothers are not Cain donors."
Hermain Cain Presidential Campaign
Block was the chief of staff and chief operating officer for Herman Cain’s presidential campaign.
In October 2011, Block emerged as a high profile face for the presidential campaign of Herman Cain after he appeared in a campaign ad smoking a cigarette.
Media reports revealed Block's history of involvement in election-related scandals, as well as a foreclosure on his home and two drunk driving convictions.
Lawsuit Accusing Block of Illegal Political Coordination
In 1997, Block was the campaign manager for Jon Wilcox, a member of the Wisconsin Supreme Court who was running for another term in office. The Wilcox campaign faced a tough challenger, well-known Wisconsin lawyer Walt Kelly, and in its final get-out-the-vote efforts, the Wilcox camp allegedly coordinated activities with independent special interests, which would have been a violation of campaign finance law.
Following the election, the Kelly campaign, as well as the Madison newspaper Capital Times, called for an investigation into the Wilcox campaign’s election activities. In 2001, the Wisconsin Elections Board did investigate the matter and formally alleged the campaign, including Block, violated state election law.
Wilcox denied having knowledge of any possible illegal coordination; however, he ultimately paid a $10,000 fine.
Block settled a lawsuit accusing him of illegally coordination. While maintaining his innocence, Block agreed to pay $15,000 and stay out of politics in any capacity for three years.
Caging Scheme with Americans for Prosperity
Block, while working for Americans for Prosperity, was allegedly involved with vote caging in neighborhoods with large minority and college student populations.
An audio recording obtained by the watchdog group One Wisconsin Now explained the scheme. The tape was of Tim Dake, then the head of GrandSons of Liberty, a Wisconsin Tea Party organization. According to statements Dake made on the recording, his group would work in conjunction with the Republican Party of Wisconsin, then chaired by Reince Priebus, now Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and with Block’s Wisconsin arm of Americans for Prosperity.
The Republican Party of Wisconsin, using its “Voter Vault” database of registered voters in the state, would compile a list targeting minority and student voters. Block and Americans for Prosperity would then fund a mass mailing to the list. The piece would be marked with a “Do Not Forward" order so that it would be returned if the recipient seemed to be absent from the address. When mail pieces bounced back, Tea Party volunteers would use the mail as evidence to block its recipient from voting, claiming the voter did not live at that address.
Confronted with these allegations, Block claimed Americans for Prosperity was “absolutely unequivocally” uninvolved in the scheme. However, Block did admit to having discussions with Dake about targeting voter fraud and that Americans for Prosperity had sent 500 letters to some Milwaukee voters.
Questionable Activity with Prosperity USA and Herman Cain Campaign
On October 30, 2011, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel broke a story revealing potential wrongdoing by Prosperity USA, a nonprofit organization Block founded. Financial documents showed that Prosperity USA, a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, paid more than $40,000 for campaign-related expenditures for Herman Cain’s presidential campaign, including jets, travel, and computers.
Friends of Herman Cain (FOH) was a political action committee (PAC), with Mr. Block named as treasurer, and registered with the Federal Election Commission on May 3, 2011. FOH began raising and spending money in January 2011 even though FOH did not officially register until May 2011. That January, the PAC raised only $60,000 to cover its $160,000 worth of expenses.
FOH was also listed as a creditor on Prosperity USA's financial documents in February 2011. A Prosperity USA report lists accounts receivable "Due from FOH" for over $40,000 in Cain's travel expenses and for Apple Computer iPads.
Prosperity USA's known spending on Mr. Cain's campaign expenses appears to have occurred in January or February of 2011, well after the period Mr. Cain became a candidate within the meaning of Code section 501(c)(3), in the view of the Center for Media and Democracy, and after Mr. Block became his campaign's chief of staff. Tax-exempt charities are prohibited from intervening in the political campaign for any candidate for public office, no matter the post.
Based on those documents, the Center for Media and Democracy filed a request with the IRS asking that they investigate Prosperity USA for violating the bar against charities participating in political campaigns, and also look into other charities associated with Block.
The Journal Sentinel later reported that Prosperity USA “also borrowed as much as $150,000 from two unnamed individuals and then gave the bulk of those funds to the Congress of Racial Equality in January 2011. Just after that transaction, Cain gave a speech at an event of the conservative civil rights group, taking place at time he entered the 2012 presidential race. According to the publication, the loans did not appear to have been repaid and were obtained “under questionable circumstances.”
Block has helped to create or orchestrate a web of organizations of the conservative ideological agenda. Below is a brief guide to these groups, their activities, and the people surrounding them.
Prosperity USA is a nonprofit organization incorporated in Wisconsin on April 9, 2010 under the name "America's Prosperity Network, Inc.” According to documents obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Mark J. Block” was listed as the corporation's registered agent upon incorporation, and "Michael D. Dean" of Waukesha, Wisconsin, was listed as the incorporator.
On July 31, 2010, the corporation filed an amendment with the state to change its name to "Prosperity USA, Inc." At that time, "Mark. J. Block" was listed as the president of the corporation.
The Prosperity USA Coalition registered with the state on September 30, 2010. Its registered agent resigned on June 23, 2011, and its principal office is listed as Mr. Dean's address, 20975 Swenson Drive, Suite 125, in Waukesha, Wisconsin, which is also the listed address for the First Freedoms Foundation. (It is also the same suite number that has been listed for an exterminator and a Spanish publications business.)
"ProsperityUSA.org" is registered to Mr. Block, and the email contact is email@example.com — apparently Scott Sidney, who previously worked for FOH has Director of Advance Operations and Americans for Prosperity in Wisconsin — at a website that was also registered to Mr. Block. The website is now defunct.
Wisconsin Arm of Americans for Prosperity
Wisconsin's Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is the state arm of the national group started by oil billionaire David Koch and Richard Fink (a member of the board of directors of Koch Industries). North Carolina's Art Pope also sat on the board of the national organization that Mr. Koch chairs. On December 7, 2010, Mr. Block announced that he would be resigning from AFP on December 31 to join the Cain campaign as Chief of Staff.
AFP is also listed on the Prosperity USA financial documents. Prosperity USA apparently spent between $15,400 and $17,900 on other travel by Cain to AFP events in states across the country earlier this year, with the expectation those expenses would be reimbursed by AFP. Under Accounts Receivable, the financial statement says "From AFP – H. Cain travel – Hill Aircraft" (a private jet service) and then enumerates trips and expenses.
Both Americans for Prosperity and Prosperity USA appear to coordinate closely on other efforts, where the veil between the two groups seems to be thin. For example, Americans for Prosperity promoted a bus tour this spring to counter Wisconsin labor protests with the slogan "Stand with Walker," which directed supporters to the website http://fightbackwisconsin.com. That site said it was a "project of Americans for Prosperity." However, Mr. Block is the administrative contact for this website, as of November 5, 2011. Additionally, the site was registered to Mr. Block's America's Prosperity Network, which has legally changed its name to "Prosperity USA."
In 2009, Americans for Prosperity used www.fightbackwisconsin.com to register guests for its annual "American Dream Summit" in Wisconsin (which featured then-Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker as emcee). (Mr. Block has also taken credit for Mr. Walker's election.)
FightBackWisconsin.org, FightBackIowa.org, FightBackMichigan.org, FightBackMinnesota.org, FightBackMissouri.org, FightBackTexas.org are all registered to Mr. Block, as of November 5, 2011. As noted above, FightBackWisconsin.org website was used to help support the administration after Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker introduced his proposal to limit collective bargaining rights for public employees. The website proclaimed itself to be a project of Americans for Prosperity. The domain name was also used as part of the email contact for "ProsperityUSA.org" (firstname.lastname@example.org), which itself remains registered to Mr. Block.
The websites are no longer functioning.
Wisconsin Prosperity Network
The Wisconsin Prosperity Network (WPN) was launched in 2009 by Mr. Block along with a politician who had run afoul of campaign finance law, former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen. Linda Hansen, who now works as Mr. Block's Deputy Chief of Staff on the Cain campaign, is its Senior Vice President, Executive Director. It is a 501(c)(3) that has told the Wisconsin Supreme Court it "acts, in part, to coordinate the efforts" of organizations like the Wisconsin branch of Americans for Prosperity. Upon its formation in 2009, WPN announced plans to spend $6.4 million per year underwriting 14 organizations to advance the right-wing agenda.
One of the organizations "coordinated" by WPN is the MacIver Institute, which describes itself as a "think tank" and received at least $300,000 in funding from the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. In the spring of 2011, it swung into action to support Governor Scott Walker's agenda.
Notably, WPN held a fundraiser for itself featuring Mr. Cain on August 19, 2010 but asked people to "register at http://www.thehermanatorpac.com/eauclaire" while asking people to make checks payable to "Wisconsin Prosperity Network," listing the same address as Mr. Block's ProsperityUSA, "PO Box 510626, New Berlin, WI 53151," which is also the same address that has been listed for Prosperity101, another Block group.
Like the Prosperity USA Coalition, state filings for Wisconsin Prosperity Network show its registered agent resigned on June 23, 2011, and its principal office was last listed as Mr. Dean's mailing address. Documents obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel indicate that the registered agent for WPN had been Michael Dean.
The Wisconsin Prosperity Network dissolved on November 6, 2013.
Prosperity 101 has as its stated mission "To help employees understand how public policy affects the stability of their own jobs by becoming Informed, Involved, Impactful™" and offers handbooks, speakers, and online classes for companies to "instruct" employees about free market policies. Alternet says "Prosperity 101 preaches an anti-union, anti-government gospel to workers right in their own workplaces.”
Linda Hansen is credited as "creating" the Prosperity 101 program, and Mr. Block also has played a role in the group, which is a for-profit, Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). Herman Cain is credited with writing parts of the Prosperity 101 handbook, as is the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore. Mr. Cain, Ms. Hansen, and Mr. Moore have been deployed as speakers at Prosperity 101 events and are featured on the front page of the Prosperity 101 website and in Prosperity 101 videos.
The Prosperity 101 program was reportedly presented in at least a dozen workplaces at the height of the 2010 elections, most of them in Wisconsin. Menards hardware store was one of those businesses, whose owner John Menard was a Walker donor and sits on the board of the powerful business lobby Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC). The gas station and convenience store chain Kwik Trip, another major Walker donor, also invited Prosperity 101 to "educate" its employees during the election season. Same with Wausau Homes, whose co-owners and the co-founder's wife gave Walker a total of $25,000 during the 2010 election, and which received a major tax break in Walker's budget.
Prosperity 101, unsurprisingly, furthers the "prosperity" meme. A Prosperity 101 product called Job Security Through Business Prosperity™ "covers the Foundations of Prosperity, Policies of Prosperity and Protecting Your Prosperity, which guides the reader to important action steps to protect their economic freedoms and personal prosperity. They are encouraged to become Informed, Involved and Impactful™"
Hansen has said publicly that Prosperity 101 is part of the Wisconsin Prosperity Network.
Although Prosperity 101 is a for-profit LLC, its website "Prosperity101.org" registered under the non-profit "America's Prosperity Network" (now Prosperity USA) by "Mark Block" in December 2009. Its registration and email resolve to an email account with the name "email@example.com," which includes Mr. Block's initials and Mr. Cain's name. The site called "AmericasProsperityNetwork.org" was created on March 29, 2010, with the same registration information and email account as Prosperity101.org.
First Freedoms Foundation
First Freedoms Foundation is a non-profit group that claims that it seeks to defend "historic constitutional liberties and principles in Wisconsin." It is also "coordinated" by the Wisconsin Prosperity Network. Mr. Block began showing up on the group's Federal 990 forms in 2007, and was listed as treasurer for the organization. Mr. Dean has been listed as the leader of this group that focuses on issues like opposing rights for same-sex couples in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Prosperity Coalition
The Wisconsin Prosperity Coalition registered with the state on September 30, 2010. The "Wisconsin Prosperity Network" and the "Wisconsin Prosperity Coalition" sent an alert in favor of Wisconsin "voter ID" legislation in January 2011 that listed the same address as Prosperity USA.
Like Prosperity USA Coalition and Wisconsin Prosperity Network, Wisconsin Prosperity Coalition's registered agent resigned on June 23, 2011, and its principal office is listed as Mr. Dean's address.
Wisconsin Prosperity Coalition dissolved on February 5, 2014.
Wisconsin Center for Economic Prosperity
The Wisconsin Center for Economic Prosperity (WCEP) is a PAC. During 2009 and 2010, AFP held conferences in Wisconsin and invited activists to attend a closing "reception" with "invited candidates for elected office" that was "fully sponsored and hosted" by WCEP. This may have been an attempt by AFP to avoid restrictions on non-profit involvement in partisan political activities, such as funding a reception for federal and state candidates. At the time of the conventions, WCEP shared leadership with AFP. Federal filings showed that at least one of WCEP's checking accounts was in the name of Mark Block.
As a PAC, WCEP is supposed to report all expenditures to the federal government, as well as comply with state disclosure rules in state races. But it reported no expenses related to its "sponsorship" of the AFP receptions in 2009 and 2010. Mr. Block's WCEP has not been charged with wrongdoing, but it has received four "failure to file" notices from the Federal Elections Commission.
WCEP is also one of three plaintiffs challenging Wisconsin's "Impartial Justice Act" that provides public financing of Supreme Court elections, a system designed to protect against the politicization of the state's highest court.
Related SourceWatch articles
- Americans for Prosperity - National and State staff
- Citizens for a Sound Economy
- Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation
- Friends of Herman Cain
- Prosperity USA
- Wisconsin's Americans for Prosperity
- "Fightback" Groups
- Wisconsin Prosperity Network
- Prosperity 101
- First Freedoms Foundation
- Wisconsin Prosperity Coalition
- Wisconsin Center for Economic Prosperity
- Koch Brothers
- Koch Family Foundations
- Americans for Prosperity
- Freedom Partners
- Cato Institute
- Heritage Foundation
- Koch Universities
- Koch Network
- Knowledge and Progress Fund
- American Encore
- Donors Capital
- 60 Plus
- Generation Opportunity
- Brendan Fischer and Sara Jerving, CMD's Quick Guide to the Mark Block "Blocktopus", PRWatch, November 8, 2011
- Associated Press Long ties to Koch brothers key to Cain's campaign, published article, USAToday, October 16, 2011
- Anne Landman Consider the Source: MacIver News Service, PRWatch.org, March 15, 2011
- Adele M. Stan Not an Employee? Herman Cain Had Mailing and Email Addresses at Koch's Americans For Prosperity HQ, Alternet, October 21, 2011
- Lisa Graves A CMD Special Report: Who Are the Headliners at Koch-Funded AFP Conventions?, PRWatch.org, March 29, 2011
- Brendan Fischer Walker, Van Hollen, Prosser and Others Attended Koch-Fueled Americans for Prosperity's Tea Party Conventions, PRWatch.org, April 4, 2011
- "Staff" Americans for Prosperity website, accessed September 2009.
- Brendan Fischer and Sara Jerving, CMD's Quick Guide to "The Blocktopus", the Center for Media and Democracy's PRwatch.org, Nov. 8, 2011.
- CMD Requests IRS Investigate Charity Accused of Fronting Private Jets for Presidential Campaign (press release), PRwatch.org, Nov. 7, 2011.
- Trip Gabriel, "For a Close Aide to Herman Cain, Scrutiny Comes on Two Fronts," New York Times, November 4, 2011. Accessed July 9, 2014.
- Brendan Fischer and Sarah Jerving, CMD's Quick Guide to the Mark Block "Blocktopus", PR Watch, November 8, 2011.
- Tommy Christopher, "Herman Cain Campaign Manager Denies Ties To Koch Brothers," Mediaite, October 31, 2011. Accessed July 9, 2014.
- Ryan Foley, Top Cain aide has checkered past. Associated Press, October 28, 2011.
- John Nichols, Herman Cain’s Next Scandal: His Smoking Campaign Manager, The Nation, November 1, 2011.
- Ryan J. Foley and Shannon McCaffrey, Mark Block, Herman Cain Chief Of Staff, Has Checkered Past, Huffington Post, October 28, 2011.
- One Wisconsin Now, WI Voter Caging Audio, One Wisconsin Now YouTube channel, September 24, 2010.
- Liberal group alleges tape reveals plan to challenge voters. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 20, 2010.
- Dan Bice, State firm's cash to Herman Cain may breach federal campaign, tax laws, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Oct. 30, 2011 (accessed Nov. 11, 2011).
- Center for Media and Democracy, CMD Requests IRS Investigate Charity Accused of Fronting Private Jets for Presidential Campaign, PR Watch, November 7, 2011.
- Brendan Fischer, Feds Scrutinizing Mark Block; CMD Requested an Investigation, PR Watch, March 30, 2012.
- Daniel Bice, Activities of former Cain operative scrutinized, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 29, 2012.
- Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, Prosperity USA Corporate Records, Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions website, accessed June 20, 2014.
- Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, Prosperity USA Coalition Corporate Records, Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions website, accessed June 20, 2014.
- Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, Wisconsin Prosperity Network Corporate Records, Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, accessed June 20, 2014.
- Adele M. Stan, Notorious Wisconsin Retailer Backs AFP-Linked Anti-Union Program, Alternet, June 2, 2011.
- Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, Wisconsin Prosperity Coalition Corporate Records, Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions website, accessed June 20, 2014.