Republican congressman Duncan Hunter, fighting for his political life in the wake of a federal indictment for campaign finance violations, has called upon the services of a consulting firm linked to a controversial Wisconsin political consultant and vaping entrepreneur who has a history with the fallen political data mining outfit Cambridge Analytica.
Hunter's latest campaign disclosure report shows that on September 17, his committee paid $15,000 for "voter modeling" to 26.2 Analytics, LLC, a New Berlin, Wisconsin firm whose agent for service, per state corporate records, is Mark Block. The firm received $35,000 in February, bringing the Hunter campaigns total outlay for its services to $50,000.
Block, a longtime GOP consultant from New Berlin was featured in a March profile by Mother Jones, which credited him with introducing British-based Cambridge Analytica's founder Alexander Nix to his American political patrons.
Of Block's first encounter with Nix, the magazine reported, "The meeting lasted more than six hours, Block recalls, as Nix described how they could use personality data and psychographics in American campaigns."
“By the time he was done, I’m going like, ‘Holy shit,’” Block is quoted as saying in the piece. “I had been aware of what Obama had done…But this seemed to be light-years ahead.”
"At a subsequent meeting Block attended," the story says, "Nix was introduced to Rebekah Mercer, who was quickly becoming one of the biggest donors in Republican politics. Bekah, as she’s known to friends, is the middle daughter of Robert Mercer, a billionaire computer scientist who pioneered the use of algorithms in investing at the Long Island-based hedge fund Renaissance Technologies."
With early backing from the Mercers, Cambridge Analytica became a key factor in the election of president Donald Trump, only to collapse into bankruptcy this year following revelations it had misappropriated the personal data of millions of Facebook users.
A veteran Wisconsin campaigner, Block has most recently become prominent as founder-in-chief of the Electronic Vaping Coalition of America, formed to oppose vaping rules and regulations, a cause that has been well-received by the Trump administration.
"The regulations are the most onerous regulations, in my opinion, ever put out by the federal government bureaucracy,” Block said back in February of last year. “We have multiple strategies on getting the deeming regulations repealed and replaced with reasonable regulations.”
Hunter is a key vaping advocate. Two years ago he took a drag from a vaping device during a House hearing over whether to ban the practice on airliners.
Last December, the liberal American Democracy Legal Fund filed a complaint with the Congressional Ethics Office, alleging that Hunter's extensive promotion of the vaping industry violated conflict of interest rules. In April, his campaign refunded a $1,000 contribution from a vape company, per an April Union-Tribune report.
"From vaping during a House committee hearing, to urging President Trump and U.S. Navy officials to be more favorable towards e-cigarettes and endorsing specific brands, it’s sometimes unclear whether Hunter is working for his constituents or a for-profit industry," the legal fund asserts on its website.
In an earlier political incarnation in 2011, Block, then handler of Herman Cain's Republican presidential campaign, became briefly famous on late night talk shows for Cain commercials that featured Block taking drags on a cigarette.