Herman Cain: The Koch Brothers, 999 origins, and drunk-driving laws

Herman Cain gets media scrutiny in five areas, including his ties to the Koch Brothers, who wrote 999, and Herman Cain's support for looser drunk-driving laws.

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, speaks with the media after an interview on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011.

At the front of the GOP presidential pack, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain is having his moment in the political sun. Which also means he’s going under the journalistic microscope. This morning’s papers are packed with pieces on Cain.

To help you keep up with the media’s continued vetting of Cain, here’s a review of the top pieces from this weekend and Monday:

1. Herman Cain’s appearance on NBC’s “Meet The Press” Sunday.

Two bits of news emerged from this interview. First, as Decoder wrote this weekend, Cain said his applause line at a recent rally - about installing a fence along the Mexican border with electric barbed wire capable of killing those trying to enter the US illegally - was a “joke” and that America “needs to get a sense of humor.”

Second, Cain acknowledged that some Americans would pay more in taxes under his “999 plan.” Which Americans, specifically? According to Cain: “The people who spend more money on new goods.”

2. Herman Cain and the Koch Brothers

The Washington Post inspected Cain’s ties to the left’s favorite monied GOP bogeymen, Charles and David Koch, finding:

Cain’s campaign manager and a number of aides have worked for Americans for Prosperity, or AFP, the advocacy group founded with support from [the Kochs], which lobbies for lower taxes and less government regulation and spending. Cain credits a businessman who served on an AFP advisory board with helping devise his “9-9-9” plan to rewrite the nation’s tax code. And his years of speaking at AFP events have given the businessman and radio host a network of loyal grassroots fans.

3. The history of “999”

The Wall Street Journal’s Neil King, Jr. digs into the formation of the “999 Plan,” finding Cain and economic advisor Rich Lowrie sought - and received - a blessing from conservative tax guru Arthur Laffer. Laffer, “often viewed as the father of supply-side economics,” reportedly signed 999 with a red A+.

In practice, Mr. Lowrie’s design combines two ideas that have figured prominently in conservative tax debates in recent years. One idea is a flat tax (Mr. Laffer for years has championed this idea). The other is a national sales tax.

Admirers see it as a breath of fresh air in what is often a stultifying debate over how to rewrite the mammoth U.S. tax code. Many conservative economists have praised the Cain approach’s shift to taxing consumption while encouraging savings and investment. But some business people—particularly retailers but also home builders—cringe at the prospect of a national sales tax. And liberals worry it would raise taxes on lower-income people, or deepen the current deficits, or maybe both.

4. Is Herman Cain a serious contender?

Two pieces dig into whether Cain, who has only recently rocketed up to top-tier status, has the desire and/or ability to start building the kind of team necessary to compete with the serious organizations of Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.

Neil King, Jr. of the Wall Street Journal writes:

Now, under increasing scrutiny, [Cain] needs to hone his message, rapidly build a campaign organization to capture the swell and, perhaps most importantly in the eyes of national GOP operatives, give himself over to the discipline of a national campaign….

Cain aides say they are hiring campaign staff at a breakneck pace, looking to nearly double the payroll to about 60 by the end of the month. They opened a South Carolina headquarters 10 days ago and are bulking up operations in Iowa and New Hampshire, where Mr. Cain has shot up in the polls.

The Washington Post’s Amy Gardner begins her piece by looking at Cain’s current lack of such an organization:

As presidential contender Herman Cain launched a bus tour across Tennessee this weekend, his advisers couldn’t explain why he would spend precious time in a state that is far down the list of crucial primaries.

Moments away from an appearance at a diner in Concord, N.H., Cain’s people didn’t know the name or address of the place.

And Cain’s organization is so thin in key early states that one New Hampshire strategist said that when activists have asked where to learn more about the candidate, there was no one in the state to refer them to.

Still, Cain is drawing massive crowds and - so far, at least - the more traditional trappings haven’t paid off much for Perry or Romney.

“If Facebook could be used to topple the Egyptian government, then perhaps Herman Cain can use it to win Iowa,” said Phil Musser, a Republican strategist who most recently worked for the short-lived presidential bid of former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty. “Thus far, the traditional approach to running for president in 2012 has paid few dividends, and the old must-dos have proven to be less important milestones than expected.”

5. Lobbying against stricter drunk driving regulations?

As head of the National Restaurant Association, Cain lobbied against a national law imposing a .08 percent blood alcohol content (BAC) limit for a driving under the influence charge, Benjy Sarlin of Talking Points Memo writes:

“The problem is not the responsible drinker,” Cain wrote in one letter to the editor.” It is the alcohol-abuser who gets behind the wheel of a car. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, two-thirds of all alcohol-related fatalities are caused by drivers with a BAC of 0.15 or higher.”

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