A joint committee of the McCain-Palin campaign, the RNC and the the California GOP made a $175,000 payment to the group Lincoln Strategy in June for purposes of "registering voters." The managing partner of that firm is Nathan Sproul, a renowned GOP operative who has been investigated for suppressing Democratic voter turnout, throwing away registration forms and spearheading efforts to get Ralph Nader on ballots to hinder the Democratic ticket.
In a letter to the Justice Department last October, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers said that that Sproul's alleged activities "clearly suppress votes and violate the law."
That Sproul would come under the employment umbrella of the McCain campaign -- the Republican National Committee has also separately paid Lincoln Strategy at least $37,000 for voter registration efforts this cycle -- is not terribly surprising. Sproul, who has donated nearly $30,000 to McCain's campaign, has been in the good graces of GOP officials for the past decade despite charges of ethical and potentially legal wrongdoing.
But his involvement with the Republican Party's voter registration efforts has the potential to create a political and public relations headache at a time when McCain can ill-afford one. For weeks the Arizona Republican and his allies have been seeking to tie Barack Obama to the community organization ACORN, which they have accused of potentially committing massive voter registration fraud. Sproul's contract with the GOP ticket -- in addition to news of Republican officials attempting to suppress Democratic turnout in California -- raises, for some, questions about McCain's own efforts.
"It should certainly take away from McCain's argument," said Bob Grossfeld, a progressive political consultant based in Arizona who has followed Sproul's career. "Without knowing anything of what is going on with ACORN, there is a clear history with Mr. Sproul either going over the line or sure as hell kicking dirt on it, and doing it for profit and usually fairly substantive profit."
As Republican Congressman Chris Cannon summarized during a joint hearing for the subcommittee on commercial and administrative law back in May 2008: "The difference between ACORN and Sproul is that ACORN doesn't throw away or change registration documents after they have been filled out."
Indeed, Sproul's history is filled with allegations of political misdeeds. During the 2004 election, Sproul & Associates (the former name of Lincoln Strategy) was accused of attempting to destroy forms collected by Democratic voters in Nevada. That same year in Oregon, Sproul & Associates allegedly instructed canvassers to only accept Republican registration forms in addition to destroying those turned in by Democrats.