WASHINGTON — Former restaurant executive Herman Cain faced a new set of sexual harassment allegations Wednesday, with a report that a third former employee had described unwanted, sexually aggressive behavior from him and a Republican pollster saying he had witnessed at least two such incidents.
Cain continued to deny the charges. Speaking to the Northern Virginia Technology Council, he ascribed the reports to "factions that are trying to destroy me personally as well as destroy this campaign." He indicated he believes that the rival campaign of Texas Gov. Rick Perry is fueling them — an accusation that a Perry spokesman denied.
Adding to Cain's troubles are allegations that his campaign accepted tens of thousands of dollars in goods and services from a tax-exempt organization founded by his chief of staff, and a spokesman for the candidate said Wednesday that an outside lawyer will review the donations.
The group, Prosperity USA, appears to have paid for plane tickets, chartered planes and computer equipment for Friends of Herman Cain, his presidential committee, raising the prospect of serious violations of tax and election laws by both Cain's campaign and the organization. The internal documents showing the expenses were first obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Prosperity USA was founded last year by Mark Block, a conservative activist and political consultant who is now Cain's chief of staff. Block formerly ran the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the tea party group co-founded by the billionaire Koch brothers.
Speaking at a panel discussion on Tuesday in Washington, Block repeatedly declined to answer questions about the irregularities, saying only that the accusations would be reviewed.
Just about the only thing that was becoming clearer as the controversy headed into its fourth day was that it is not going to go away anytime soon.
The third accuser is an unidentified woman who told the Associated Press that she had considered filing a workplace complaint against Cain for what the news service described as "sexually suggestive remarks or gestures" when she was working at the National Restaurant Association and he was the head of the group.
The alleged misbehavior occurred about the same time that two co-workers settled separate harassment complaints against Cain, each reportedly for five figures.
Meanwhile, pollster Chris Wilson — who said he polled for the National Restaurant Association during Cain's tenure, and whose firm has more recently done work for an outside super PAC supporting Perry — told Oklahoma radio station KTOK that he had witnessed harassment by Cain toward a very low-level staffer who was maybe two years out of college.
"I was around a couple of times when this happened, and anyone who was involved with the NRA at the time knew that this was going to come up," Wilson told interviewer Reid Mullins.
The restaurant association has not commented on the specifics of the allegations, citing confidentiality agreements with the original accusers.
Attorney Joel Bennett, who represents one of them, said she was considering whether she wanted to press the group to release her from the agreement. On Wednesday night, however, she told a Washington Post reporter that she had decided not to go public. Asked why, she replied: "I'm too tired to say why."
Cain has fought back in a flurry of television appearances, though his defense has been marred by his shifting recollections and explanations. He first pleaded ignorance of the accusations or any settlement, but subsequently acknowledged that he had known of at least one of them.
On Wednesday, he shifted his strategy. "Don't even bother asking me all of these other questions that you all are curious about, okay?" he shouted at a media horde at one of his appearances. "Don't even bother."
In an interview with Forbes, Cain indicated that he believes Perry's operatives are behind the surfacing of accusations that were lodged and resolved more than a decade ago. Cain recalled that he told political consultant Curt Anderson, who worked on his failed 2004 Senate campaign and recently signed on with Perry, about one of the incidents.
Cain's campaign manager, Block, later called on the Perry campaign to apologize.
But Perry's campaign disputed the suggestion that it had planted the report in the media. "No one at our campaign was involved in this story in any way," said spokesman Ray Sullivan.
The pressure on Cain only increased when a pillar of the GOP establishment suggested that he should ask the association to waive the confidentiality agreements.
"What are the facts?" Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour asked on MSNBC.
"Herman Cain's interest is getting this behind him," added Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman.
Information from the Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report.