Herman Cain might be known best as the former CEO of Godfathers Pizza, but he served an equally substantial role as a lobbyist for the restaurant and fast food industry. As reporter Mike Elk notes at In These Times magazine, Cain, as head of the National Restaurant Association (NRA) in the ’90s, led an aggressive campaign to stop a hike in the minimum wage; and was successful in exempting servers from being included in the 1996 minimum wage law. Although Cain avoids explicitly calling attention to his role as a lobbyist on the campaign trail, he does cite his work as a restaurant association representative in fighting against President Clinton’s health reform plan as his most formative political experience.
As a lobbyist for the NRA, Cain represented a trade association for McDonalds, Burger King, and other fast food establishments. But a little known history, uncovered by ThinkProgress using the University of California, San Francisco archives, shows that Cain also lobbied on behalf of tobacco industry giants like R.J. Reynolds and Phillip Morris.
Cain met frequently with representatives of R.J. Reynolds and other cigarette companies to find areas of mutual concern. In 1993, when President Clinton proposed a health care overhaul, the expansion of coverage included a cigarette tax and a requirement for many businesses to cover their employees. The tobacco industry reached out to form an alliance against the Clinton plan, and Cain obliged given the fast food industry’s opposition to the so-called “employer mandate.” A fax, sent from the tobacco industry’s public relations firm Burson-Marsteller on July 13, 1994, proposes a positive article about Cain’s “BITE BACK” campaign against health reform and smoking bans.
As Cain rose through the ranks of the National Restaurant Association to become its CEO, his bond with tobacco giants continued. In 1997, R.J. Reynolds executive David Fishel filed a memo about a meeting between Cain and tobacco lobbyists shortly after Cain became the NRA CEO. “Cain gave every indication that the NRA and RJR have the same views with regard to excessive government regulations and the importance of letting restaurateurs determine their own smoking policies,” Fishel wrote. R.J. Reynolds and other tobacco giants were at the time engaged in a massive lobbying effort to crush local, state, and federal efforts to regulate smoking in restaurants and other places of public concern.
The relationship blossomed. At one point, Cain even signed up to help out with an international pro-tobacco publicity tour.
Blurring the lines between restaurant industry caretaker and tobacco company representative, Cain accepted hefty donations from tobacco corporations. Cain worked to snuff out a Senate bill that would have reigned in smoking at restaurants and other facilities around the country. The lobbying drive, which defeated the bill in 1998, occured just after the NRA started to see money coming in from tobacco firms.
As Cain gained political connections in the lobbying world, he let some of his associates in on his dream of becoming president. “What IS a little interesting,” remarked tobacco lobbyist Rob Meyne in a January 22, 1999 e-mail to his colleagues, “is that Cain has informed key NRA leaders … that he is, in fact, going to run for President.” Meyne mused that Cain probably couldn’t win, but could make some type of impact. Cain would be a positive addition to the Republican field because he is “good on our issues,” added Meyne.