Longtime Wisconsin GOP operative Mark Block, who has a history of campaign missteps, has been named as a key player in the international uproar over Cambridge Analytica, a London-based firm that mined data from 50 million Facebook users to try to influence the 2016 presidential race.
Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower who brought the scandal to light, identified Block as the middleman between former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and Cambridge Analytica.
In a story posted earlier this week, the Guardian newspaper said Wylie offered "what sounds like a tall tale, though its one he can back up with an email."
"Mark Block, a veteran Republican strategist, happened to sit next to a cyberwarfare expert for the U.S. Air Force on a plane," the newspaper said. It continued, “And the cyberwarfare guy is like, ‘Oh, you should meet SCL (Group). They do cyberwarfare for elections."
SCL Group is the parent company for Cambridge Analytica.
The firm, which was hired by Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, has been listed as having a New Berlin, Wis., address in some Federal Election Commission filings. That post office box has previously been used by Block.
Block, who has been active in Wisconsin politics for at least 40 years, did not return calls seeking an interview. He ran the ill-fated 2012 presidential campaign for GOP candidate Herman Cain.
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Over the weekend, the New York Times and London-based media reported that Cambridge Analytica tried to influence the 2016 presidential election with data taken from up to 50 million Facebook users.
Bannon, who served as Trumps campaign chief, was vice president of Cambridge Analytica, and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway consulted for the company. Hedge-fund billionaire and GOP donor Robert Mercer, who had strong ties to Bannon, pumped millions into the firm.
Facebook has said the data was originally gathered several years ago by a Cambridge psychology professor. The social media outlet had given the professor permission to collect the data.
Subsequently he passed the information to SCL Group and Cambridge Analytica.
Cambridge Analytica has suspended its CEO, Alexander Nix, after he was recorded in an undercover television show offering to assist a potential political client by using prostitutes and bribery to entrap political candidates.
This isnt the first time Block and his political groups have been linked to questionable campaign activities.
Back in 2011, Block — at the time a top campaign aide to then-presidential candidate Cain — faced questions about whether his private group had breached federal campaign law by helping Cain get his fledgling campaign off the ground by originally footing the bill for tens of thousands of dollars in expenses. Those expenses included private jets, travel and computers for the Cain campaign.
That group, Prosperity USA, was owned and run by Block and Linda Hansen, Cains then chief of staff and deputy chief of staff.
Block also previously served as campaign manager for former state Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox in 1997. Accused of election law violations stemming from that race, Block settled the case by agreeing to pay a $15,000 fine and to stay out of Wisconsin politics for three years.
But he didnt stay away from politics for long.
Block more recently ran the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group co-founded by the conservative Koch brothers.
Block met Cain through that group, and encouraged him to run for national office.
Another group started by Block was called Wisconsin Prosperity Network, which he co-founded with former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen.
Stories have noted that former U.N. ambassador John Boltons Super PAC has used Cambridge Analytica.
Boltons group announced this week that it was launching a new round of TV and radio ads in the Milwaukee market to help GOP candidate Kevin Nicholson in the U.S. Senate race.
The Super PAC has promised to invest $1 million in the fall race.
Nicholson has also received $5,400 in campaign funds from billionaire heiress Rebekah Mercer. She sits on the Cambridge Analytica board and is the daughter of Robert Mercer.
But a Nicholson aide downplayed the connections between the candidate and the data-mining firm.
"We aren’t using Cambridge on our campaign, and we can’t control what outside groups do or who they hire," said spokesman Brandon Moody.
Block gained national attention for his offbeat political ad for Cain which featured him taking a long drag off a cigarette at the end.