Cain accuser sticks to allegation; he presses on

By Laurie Kellman

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Nov. 4 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Joel Bennett, an attorney for a woman who accused Herman Cain of sexual harassment while both worked at the National Restaurant Association, speaks during a news conference outside his office in Washington, Friday, Nov. 4, 2011. Bennett said she complained about a "series of inappropriate behaviors" in good faith and accepted a financial agreement.

Jose Luis Magana, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

WASHINGTON — A lawyer for one of Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain's accusers said Friday she alleged "several incidents of sexual harassment" in a complaint filed more than a decade ago.

The lawyer, Joel Bennett, said his client accepted a financial settlement as part of an agreement to leave her job at the National Restaurant Association shortly after lodging the complaint. Bennett did not name the woman, whom he said had decided not "to relive the specifics" of the incidents in a public forum.

Cain has denied ever sexually harassing anyone as he tries to overcome the controversy and resume normal campaign activities.

In a statement late in the day, the restaurant association said Cain had disputed the woman's allegations at the time she made them more than a decade ago. He was CEO of the organization at the time of the alleged incidents.

Bennett's comments to reporters outside his law office came at a time Cain was making a concerted effort to show he would no longer allow the controversy to dominate his unlikely challenge for the GOP presidential nomination.

Cain drew cheers of support Friday from conservative activists as he delivered a speech focused on the U.S. economy. He is trying to convert his meteoric rise in opinion polls into a campaign organization robust enough to compete with Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and other rivals in early primary and caucus states.

In an appearance before the Americans For Prosperity Foundation, the career businessman pitched his trademark 9-9-9 economic program and referred only elliptically to the controversy that has overshadowed his campaign in recent days. "I've been in Washington all week, and I've attracted a little bit of attention," he said to knowing laughter from his audience.

Not everyone sounded ready to let it fade, despite Cain's repeated denials.

In Georgia, the state party chairwoman, Sue Everhart, said, "I think he has to completely put it behind him or it will continue to be a problem. He's got to do the housekeeping duties and clean this up."

She suggested Cain should coax the restaurant trade group to permit one of his accusers to make a public statement. That was before the woman's lawyer read her statement, with the trade group's permission.

The accuser, whose identity has not been made public, signed a confidentiality agreement when she left the organization more than a decade ago after accusing Cain, then the trade group's head, of sexual harassment. At the time of her departure, she received a financial settlement. The lawyer declined to say how much it had been.

At least two other women have made similar allegations, and a former pollster for the restaurant association has said he witnessed yet another episode.

The controversy surfaced as Cain, a black man in a party that draws its support overwhelmingly from white voters, was rising to the top in public opinion polls. His campaign announced Friday that donations so far this week have totaled $1.6 million, described as a fourfold increase over the average take for an entire month.

Official figures won't be available for weeks, but to judge from Cain's existing campaign organization, it could hardly come at a better time for him.

In Iowa, where caucuses kick off the campaign year on Jan. 3, Cain has a modest presence at best.

He let more than two months lapse between visits on Aug. 13 and Oct. 22, and aides say they don't expect him to return to the state until Nov. 19.

He employs four full-time staff in the state, while Perry and Rep. Michel Bachmann of Minnesota each have 10 on their campaign payroll. Romney, who is still evaluating how strenuously to compete in the state, also has a bigger staff than Cain.

Cain also trails his rivals in the endorsement competition in Iowa, an important but hardly foolproof indication of a candidate's viability.

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