Thursday, October 28, 2004

GOP operative under fire over voter-registration tactics

BETH DeFALCO, Associated Press Writer

Thursday, October 28, 2004

GOP operative Nathan Sproul makes no apologies for sending his canvassers out to register Republicans, not Democrats, in battleground states. And if powerful Democrats like Ted Kennedy are demanding the Justice Department investigate him, well, he considers that a badge of honor.

"I take great pride in the fact that the Democrats are having hysterical fits about how well we did our job," Sproul said.

Sproul and his Chandler, Ariz.-based political consulting firm, Sproul & Associates, have come under fire in recent weeks, accused of deceiving would-be voters and destroying Democratic voter registration cards.

Some of his former canvassers have come forward in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Oregon, alleging they were told to register only Republicans and to "walk away" from people who said they intended to vote for John Kerry. Some said that completed Democratic registration forms had been thrown out or ripped up.

Sproul -- a former Christian Coalition activist and one-time executive director of the Arizona GOP with a reputation among Republicans as someone who gets things done -- has denied any wrongdoing.

His political opponents say the 32-year-old Sproul has a history of employing underhanded tactics.

"It comes as no surprise that Nathan Sproul is involved in registering voters in some sketchy way," said Arizona Democratic Party spokeswoman Sarah Rosen. "It seems that whatever he's been doing is finally catching up with him. Yet the RNC and Republicans seem to keep rewarding him with new contracts."

Sproul & Associates received nearly $526,000 from the Republican National Committee since July for voter registration efforts and nearly $490,000 from the RNC for political consulting, according to the Political Money Line campaign finance tracking service. Political Money Line also showed that the Arizona Republican Party has paid Sproul $70,000 for consulting and voter registration drives here.

"Nathan Sproul is a victim of slanderous statements by the Democrats who will say anything to win," said Bill Christiansen, executive director of the Arizona Republican Party.

While Sproul denies that any workers were instructed to destroy Democratic registrations, he does not dispute that he tried to register more Republicans than Democrats. After all, that is why he was hired by the GOP, he said, and it is fair. "For Democrats to feign anger over it demonstrates their complete lack of integrity," Sproul said. "They do the exact same thing every day of the week."

He said his canvassers did not go out looking for Democrats, but accepted voter registrations from them if they offered them.

While it is illegal to tamper with voter registration forms -- in some states it is a felony -- it is not against the law for groups to decline to register certain voters. However, it is frowned upon by some.

"It's unethical to not register anyone who comes to you to register," said Karen Osborne, a Democrat who is elections director for Maricopa County, Arizona's most populous county.

Whether the Justice Department is investigating Sproul is unclear. The department did not immediately return a call for comment, but Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller said the FBI has taken the lead on an investigation into claims of voter fraud in his state by a company headed by Sproul.

Sproul is fighting back. After former canvasser Eric Russell of Las Vegas claimed that he saw a Sproul supervisor tear up eight to 10 registration forms completed by Democrats, Sproul hit Russell with a slander suit.

"As best as I can tell, the incident he alleges didn't happen," Sproul said. "It caused great discomfort to me, my family and my business."

Russell said he managed to grab some of the shredded documents as evidence.

Sproul grew up in Tempe and considered the ministry while studying at Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in Minnesota. After he graduated in 1994, he went to Washington to work as an intern for then-Rep. Jon Kyl of Arizona. Later he became executive director of the state's Christian Coalition branch, then executive director of the Arizona Republican Party. He left in 2002 to start his own firm, which coordinates voter registration drives and gathers petition signatures

During Sproul's recent work on an effort to dismantle Arizona's "Clean Elections" system for publicly funding candidates, Democrats secretly videotaped one of his petition gatherers lying about the ballot measure -- and portraying it as something that would promote Clean Elections -- to get a voter's signature. (The measure never made it to the ballot because of problems with the wording.)

When he was field director with the nonprofit Christian Coalition, he was accused by some of being overtly political.

His firm has grown quickly, in large part because of Sproul's GOP contacts.

"He's very professional, very mission-oriented," said Republican consultant Paul Senseman. "He's somebody that gets things done."


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