The Palm Beach Post report last night that a Florida Republican Party contractor turned in at least 106 “questionable” registration firms, with “similar signatures” and wrong addresses, doesn’t seem like a national news story. But it has unwoven a somewhat concealed effort by Republicans in several states to deploy a firm with an ugly history of allegedly destroying Democratic voter registration forms and other acts of fraud.
The contractor in Florida is called Strategic Allied Consulting, a business entity created a few months ago and registered online by a former Arizona Republican Party director named Nathan Sproul.
Sproul, a consultant based in Tempe, is infamous for accusations that his firms have committed fraud by tampering with Democratic voter registration forms and suppressing votes. Sproul was hired by the Romney campaign for a period of five months that began last November and ended in March. But now there’s evidence that the payments continued, only to a different name.
As Greg Flynn of BlueNC pointed out earlier this month, Strategic Allied Consulting recently put up a proxy to hide the fact that its website was registered by Sproul; but not before Flynn took a screen shot. Flynn notes that the firm has been aggressively hiring in Nevada, North Carolina, Virginia and Florida. He flagged two large payments to the firm from GOP committees in Florida and North Carolina.
I found a few more payments, like this one from the Colorado Republican Committee: $140,000 to the Sproul-connected firm on July 6, 2012. (UPDATE: I also found the California Republican Party making $430,840 in payments to "Grassroots Outreach, LLC" this cycle for voter registration and petition gathering. According to this disclosure, Grassroots Outreach shares the same address as Sproul's office in Tempe, Arizona. Craigslist job postings in California and Colorado use identical language as Strategic Alled Consulting's listings in North Carolina.)
Brad Friedman has put up a history of Sproul’s companies, and their work for Republican interests. They range from antics like gathering signatures to put Nader on the ballot and being banned from Walmart for partisan voting drives to more serious offenses, like allegedly destroying Democratic registration forms in several states while on the payroll of the RNC.
I called Sproul’s firm in Arizona to ask about its connection to Strategic Allied Consulting. “I am not at liberty to discuss that,” the reception answered bluntly, before transferring me to another employee who gave a similarly coy response. I e-mailed my questions over, and will post a response if they send it. It’s also worth noting Sproul hid his tracks in 2008.
For the 2008 campaign cycle, Sproul changed his company’s name from Sproul & Associates (an earlier iteration was called Voter Outreach of America) to “Lincoln Strategy Group,” and McCain’s campaign used a California affiliate to hire him.
It's possible that Romney, like McCain, wanted to utilize Sproul without becoming publicly associated with him. The type of fraud Sproul has been accused of is fairly breathtaking, and seems to dwarf the trumped-up charges by Republicans that Democrats have engaged in widespread voter fraud (claims that have been widely debunked).
In 2004, a voter registration worker in Nevada hired by Sproul’s firm told reporters that he had witnessed his surpervisors chucking registration forms signed by Democrats. “They were thrown away in the trash,” he claimed. Sproul’s canvassers in Oregon confessed to doing the same thing, and other reports emerged across several swing states. In Minnesota, workers said they were actually fired for bringing in registration forms signed by Democrats. CBS News obtained faxes showing that Sproul's firm had even impersonated the left-leaning America Votes! to organize voter registration drives at libraries.
One of the mysteries with Sproul that I had wondered about while covering this story in the past is why there had never been a serious investigation.
As I pointed out in a blog post earlier this year, Sproul's alleged activities were uniquely worrisome. “So the difference between ACORN and Sproul is that ACORN doesn’t throw away or change registration documents after they have been filled out,” remarked Chris Cannon, a Republican lawmaker from Utah, who later lost his seat because of a right-wing primary challenge, during a congressional hearing on voter suppression. Indeed, many voter registration groups (including ACORN) have paid per-registration form turned in, thus incentivizing fake signatures—i.e., Mickey Mouse registering to vote. But this type of thing doesn't actually result in fraudulent votes because Mickey Mouse doesn’t show up at the polls and try to cast a ballot. Destroying registration forms, on the other hand, means citizens who believed they were registered show up and could have been denied their vote.
Sam Stein reported that in 2004, Senators Patrick Leahy and Ted Kennedy had demanded an investigation in light of the many reports of Sproul’s firm destroying registration forms. But the Department of Justice sat on its hands. “Sproul & Associates clearly merited a full investigation by the Justice Department; and yet the DoJ did nothing,” said New York University law professor Mark Miller at the Cannon hearing.
Perhaps Sproul’s ties to prominent Republicans helped him escape an investigation.
As Congress and ethics experts loudly called for investigations into Sproul’s voter suppression, the Bush administration literally welcomed Sproul and his wife into the White House for a Christmas party in 2006. The administration instead chose prosecute groups associated with registering low-income and poor Americans to vote.
UPDATE: Around 2:30 pm EST on Thursday, WRAL News in North Carolina reports that the NC GOP is dropping its contract with Strategic Allied Consulting. Last night, the Florida Republican Party said it would be ending its contract with the firm as well. What about the Colorado Republican Party, the California Republicans Party, and what appears to be GOP contracts in Virginia and Nevada?
UPDATE: NBC News is reporting that the national Republican Party is cutting ties with Strategic Allied Partners. They've also confirmed that the company is run by Nathan Sproul. Sproul was hired for a multimillion dollar contract to recruit 4,000-5,000 people to help register Republican voters in swing states (at $12-$16/hr, according to the Craigslist posts we reported). Given the size of this contract, the abrupt way that the party dropped Sproul might raise some eyebrows. Maybe they were worried the Palm Beach incident wasn't isolated?
For more on the GOP's election strategy, check out Lee Fang's latest on the Koch brothers.