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Romney’s Dirty Trickster

They say if you want to know who a man is, find out who his friends are. In that case, meet Mitt Romney’s new buddy, Nathan Sproul, the former leader of the Arizona Republican Party and the Arizona Christian Coalition.

OK, the word “buddy” may not be exactly right. How about cohort, accomplice, hired gun? That might better describe the shadowy political consultant who has recently joined the Romney election team.

Come to think of it, scratch, “political consultant.” Replace it with “dirty trickster,” or more pointedly, “perpetrator of voter fraud.” Alright, we’ll need to add the qualifying term “alleged” before “perpetrator,” since Sproul has not actually done jail time yet for stealing votes. (Who has?) Let’s just say that the Republican operative, who has been called “Arizona’s Carl Rove,” has had a chequered career over the last two decades playing fast and loose with the electoral process. Here are a few highlights culled from a recent story in Republic Report and elsewhere:

*The firm Sproul and Associates was investigated for voter fraud in Nevada during their work on behalf of the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004. Sproul’s registrars allegedly canvassed voters about which candidate they were planning to support. If they were leaning Republican, the group helped them to register. If they leaned Democratic, they ignored them, or later destroyed the form.

*In Oregon as well, the state attorney general opened a criminal investigation into allegations that Sproul’s group (they have since changed their name to “Lincoln Strategies”) was involved in intentionally destroying or discarding voter registration forms signed by Democrats. Portland CBS affiliate KLAS-TV reported that a former employee of Sproul claimed that hundreds, if not thousands, of Democratic registration forms were trashed by the Sproul’s minions.

*Sproul and his operatives were also behind efforts to gather signatures on a petition to place Ralph Nader on the ballot in Arizona in an attempt to siphon votes off from Democrat, John Kerry in 2004.

*During the midterm elections in 2006 Sproul’s “registrars” were kicked out of Wal-Mart in Tennessee, and also the Oregon library system  for claiming fraudulently that they were engaged in a “non-partisan voter registration drive, when they were really working for the Republican National Committee.

*In Arizona, according to Salon, Sproul’s minions employed a variety of deceptive tactics– including systematically lying about the bill– to push a ballot initiative to eviscerate the state’s Clean Elections Law. [Salon, 10/21/04]

Republicans counter that Democrats do the same sorts of things. They cite the Chicago-based community development group ACORN, which they accuse of having filed fake voter registration forms prior to the last presidential election. Never mind that the general counsel of the RNC himself acknowledged that he could not give a single example of an improper vote having been cast as a result of this supposed voter registration fraud.

As former Republican congressman Chris Cannon of Utah conceded, “the difference between ACORN and Sproul is that ACORN doesn’t throw away or change registration documents after they have been filled out.”

Sproul’s capers include “tricking Democrats into registering as Republicans, surreptitiously re-registering Democrats and Independents as Republicans, and shredding Democratic registration forms,” according to the Baltimore Chronicle. For which services during the 2004 presidential election campaign, Sproul was paid an astounding $8.3 million by Bush and the Republicans, investigative journalists Mark Crispin Miller and Jared Irmas discovered.

That makes the $71,391 in fees that the consultant has reportedly received so far from Romney for President Inc. mere chump change by comparison. But, hey, that was only the first installment. Expect more and bigger checks to flow as November approaches and Nathan Sproul presumably comes up with new and improved ways to swindle Democratic voters of their votes.

Richard Schiffman is  the author of two biographies as well as a journalist whose work has appeared in  Salon, The Guardian, Reuters, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor and the Huffington Post. He was also a free-lance journalist for several years at NPR and Monitor Radio.