GOP-backed firm at centre of fraud inquiry


THE US Republican Party has suffered two blows in as many days in its efforts to exploit voter registration laws against the Democrats.

Yesterday, Judge Robert Simpson of Pennsylvania blocked a state voter-identification law from taking effect before the November 6th election. The law had forced thousands of people, many of them elderly African-Americans, to travel long distances and wait for hours to obtain new state-issued identity cards.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered Judge Simpson to block the law unless he was certain no one would be disenfranchised, and that the cards were easy to obtain. Democrats assume such laws in Pennsylvania and a number of Republican-controlled states are intended to discourage ethnic minorities, who mostly support US president Barack Obama, from voting.

The Pennsylvania House majority leader, representative Mike Turzai, referred in a speech last June to “voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania”. Mitt Romney has fallen so far behind Mr Obama in Pennsylvania polls that it is no longer considered a swing state.

Republicans suffered greater embarrassment on Monday, when they were forced to halt voter registration drives in the five swing states of Florida, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia due to a fraud scandal involving a long-time Republican operative.

Registration would normally have continued in those states for another one to two weeks. But officials in Palm Beach County, Florida, noticed that many signatures looked the same, and that commercial, not residential addresses were being used on registration forms submitted by Strategic Allied Consulting (SAC), which had been paid $1.3 million (€1 million) by the Republican Party to lead its registration effort in Florida.

SAC initially claimed the suspicious forms were collected by one individual, who was fired. Then nine more Florida counties reported irregularities, all on forms submitted by SAC.

Attention turned to Nathan Sproul (40), the owner of at least five Arizona-based consulting firms. In his youth, Sproul headed the Arizona Christian Coalition, and for a time served as the head of the state’s Republican Party. He and his companies have received $21.2 million from the party, including $1.6 million from state groups in North Carolina, Virginia and Colorado. Mr Romney’s campaign paid him $72,000 for “field consulting” this year, according to the Washington Post.

Canvassers from one of Mr Sproul’s firm were accused of destroying registration forms completed by Democrats during the 2004 election campaign, but no charges were filed. According to the Florida Sun-Sentinel, Mr Sproul established SAC last June after the Republican National Committee asked him to use a new name, not associated with the previous scandal. Republicans have insisted on stricter voter ID laws, despite the fact there has been little evidence of fraud.

In 2008, the left-leaning community organising group Acorn admitted that some of its workers had submitted fraudulent registration forms. The incident became a cause célèbre with Republicans.