Well, this is an interesting turn of events. It includes a bizarre twist that even we would not have foreseen, involving a Republican operative who is now threatening legal action against us for reporting (accurately) on his companies' relationship to voter registration fraud and deceptive voter registration practices during the 2012 election and in previous cycles.
Remember that massive, multi-state GOP voter registration fraud scandal just before the 2012 election? The one that started in Palm Beach, Florida, spread to several different counties, then several different states? The scandal resulted in the Republican National Committee firing the Arizona firm they had secretly hired for millions of dollars to carry out voter registration drives and get-out-the-vote efforts in a bunch of key swing-states, including Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Nevada and Colorado in advance of the Presidential Election.
The firm at the center of the RNC scandal was named Strategic Allied Consulting. It was created and run by Nathan Sproul, a notorious Arizona-based Republican operative with a checkered past, who ran Republican voter registration drives and other on-the-ground GOP activist campaigns. Sproul's name was not used in the legal filings which created Strategic Allied Consulting in advance of the 2012 election, due to his various companies facing voter registration fraud allegations and criminal investigations in a number of states going back as far as the 2004 Presidential election. Because of that unfairly tarnished background, Sproul claimed when the 2012 scandal first surfaced, the RNC didn't want his fingerprints on the operation. The RNC was dodgy about the issue, but fired Sproul and his firm in several states once the scandal came to light, despite having paid millions of dollars for the effort.
The BRAD BLOG broke a number of stories related to the RNC scandal at the time, including details on the very first reports of "hundreds" of fraudulent registration forms turned in to the Palm Beach County, FL Supervisor of Elections after they were collected by Sproul's workers and turned in by the local Republican Party.
In the same series of articles, we also exposed the deceptive (and perhaps illegal) registration scheme employed by Sproul's firms in states where they operated. The scheme involved registration workers trained to pretend to be pollsters asking voters who they planned to support in the Presidential election. If they answered the question correctly (Romney) Sproul's workers would help them register to vote. If the unsuspecting citizen answered the "survey" question incorrectly (Obama), the workers would wish them a nice day, and then move on to the next target.
As we documented with video, email and other records at the time, including admissions by Sproul himself, his firm used this same deceptive tactic in state after state and in a number of recent election cycles.
Now, a two-year Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) investigation has finally wrapped up into the 2012 allegations in that state. It has led to yet another arrest of one of Sproul's workers, found no evidence of conspiracy by the company in that state, confirmed The BRAD BLOG's reporting on their deceptive registration technique, and sent Sproul scurrying to threaten us via email (posted below) with a lawsuit...for something...
Two-year Florida probe
The week before last, 52-year old William Hazard was arrested in Palm Beach and charged with nine counts of voter registration fraud. It was the fourth arrest of a Strategic employee following the 2012 scandal during the two-year FDLE probe in about half a dozen counties.
Hazard's falsified registration forms --- some including the names of out-of-state family members, former co-workers, and some from local voters whose registrations he illegally altered from Democratic to Republican --- were the ones that initially alerted officials to a massive problem with fraudulent forms turned in by the Sproul/RNC firm in the Sunshine State.
The scandal then spread to include problematic registrations and activities by the firm's workers in several other states, including Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado and Nevada.
As AP now reports in their coverage of the latest arrest, "In Florida, it is a third-degree felony to 'willfully submit' any false voter registration information, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison." (Though, we should note, enforcement of that provision in the Sunshine State appears to be very selective. See documentation of GOP superstar Ann Coulter's "willful submission" of her own false voter registration information in Florida here.)
Additionally, the FDLE investigation has now confirmed our reporting on the deceptive registration scheme originally detailed at The BRAD BLOG in October of 2012. The now-completed Florida probe found no evidence of a conspiracy to commit voter registration fraud by Sproul's company, though Democratic state officials have criticized the investigation as a "superficial review." Last year, they requested that the FL House Speaker carry out a more thorough investigation, citing, for instance, "records released by FDLE...[that] show that one supervisor gathering forms in Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties refused to speak to investigators." The Republican Speaker of the Florida House declined the request for a separate investigation.
Moreover, in Florida, where Strategic was hired by the Florida Republican Party for $1.3 million at the direction of the RNC, law enforcement officials were reportedly told by a number of Sproul's employees that "they were coached to not sign up Democrats," according to a detailed expose on the investigation in the Palm Beach Post [subscription req'd].
In the bargain, Sproul, who had commented to The BRAD BLOG on and off the record with some frequency as the 2012 scandal spread from state to state, and in the months that followed, has now sent a vaguely worded email with a direct threat of legal action against us, based on what he now characterizes as "inaccurate" stories "on your website."
'You are now put on notice'...
Sproul's emailed legal threat links to a short article in the Sun Sentinel about the latest arrest of one of his firm's contractors and the completion of the FDLE's two-year probe.
He states that he is "sure" we "will want to clear up the 'ever expanding' voter registration story of two years ago," though he fails to cite which "story" he is either referring to or quoting from. As the scandal unfolded, we covered the developments in at least 18 different articles at The BRAD BLOG, as well as at other outlets such as Salon and on innumerable radio and TV appearances.
"You are now put on notice that the stories you currently have on your website have been proven by law enforcement to be inaccurate," warns Sproul in his September 11, 2014 missive. "Take them down immediately or my attorney will be in contact with you."
Again, Sproul made no mention of which stories or which inaccuracies he was referring to, nor does his email offer details on what he describes as information from law enforcement that has "proven" those articles to be "inaccurate." He does, however, quote the very final line of the Sun-Sentinel's story which reads: "Investigators found the voter fraud was conducted by individuals, who acted on their own and not at the firm's direction, Department of Law Enforcement spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said."
That's fine, as far as allegations of voter registration fraud by the company in Florida. But it doesn't speak to the deceptive registration scheme his company used broadly across the county.
On that point, Sproul fails to highlight the earlier sentences from the very same article, which confirm, yet again, one of the most important elements of our 2012 investigation into Sproul and his firms [emphasis added]:
The findings by the FDLE would seem to confirm precisely what we detailed happening in more than half a dozen states in October of 2012. For example, as we reported at the time:
The BRAD BLOG has also collected evidence suggesting that the dishonest registration tactic also appears to be in use in states where the RNC's firm, Strategic Allied Consulting, is not said to be operating, suggesting that the practice is not just one used by the discredited firm, but, rather, a nationwide voter scheme by the GOP.
Questions about the legality of the tactic are emerging as well, though the deplorable ethics of the practice, legal or otherwise, would seem to be beyond dispute.
Our report included an email from Sproul himself that he had sent to voter registration supervisors in Nevada after a local news report highlighted one of his registration workers telling a potential registrant outside a DMV office: "We are taking a quick poll today. If the election were held tomorrow, who would you support Romney or Obama?"
Sproul pointed us toward the email in which he congratulated his firm after the Las Vegas ABC affiliate aired their report. He said the worker had done "her job perfectly."
"The bright white lights of a presidential campaign are on," Sproul's email begins. "This was filmed in NV. You can see that our worker did her job perfectly. Good job."
In the same report, we also documented the serious questions about the legality of the deceptive practice that Sproul trained workers to use across the country. While federal law doesn't seem to directly address the practice, statutes differ from state to state. For example, in Nevada, where Sproul characterized his worker as doing "her job perfectly" when she purposely misrepresented herself in order to sign up potential Romney --- but not potential Obama --- voters, we documented how Nevada Revised Statutes 293.5045 and 293.505 bar "any action to discourage an applicant from registering to vote," while stating that an "employee of a voter registration agency...shall not...8(b) Refuse to register a person on account of that person's political party affiliation." Neither may such registration workers "9(a) Solicit a vote for or against a particular question or candidate." Violation of those statutes are category E felonies in Nevada.
Years of Sproul-related registration fraud scandals
So, what is it that Sproul finds to be "inaccurate" in our reporting? He failed to say in his email, which we are only now able to report on after finally completing jury duty last week. His bizarre attempt at journalist intimidation has led several attorneys we contacted for comment to dismiss the threats implied by his missive as, well, weird.
Two different attorneys were puzzled by the fact that Sproul failed to specify what post or posts he found offensive. One marginalized Sproul's apparent assertion that he has somehow been vindicated by the Florida investigation, and wondered if he also has plans to take legal action against many of the other media outlets who covered the scandal as it occurred in 2012. In the heat of the lead-up to Election Day in 2012, it was covered by everyone from the L.A. Times to the New York Times to the Palm Beach Post to the Arizona Republic and beyond.
Of course, as usual, our detailed coverage of Sproul and the 2012 scandal was well-sourced and independently verifiable. Though we were in fairly close contact with Sproul throughout our reporting, both before and after the 2012 Presidential election --- and, indeed, allowed him many opportunities to respond to allegations he found unfair --- he made no requests, to our knowledge, to remove any material or correct any alleged inaccuracies in our reporting throughout the process.
In fact, though we were highly critical of Sproul's offensive and deceptive scheme for registering only Republican voters --- while hoaxing Democratic-leaning voters into believe his registration workers were simply pollsters taking a survey --- our email and Twitter conversations with Sproul were often friendly, spirited and courteous, if occasionally contentious.
He once even proposed via email that we have an online debate with him, streaming at The BRAD BLOG, after the election.
During our conversations, Sproul did, on occasion, note what he felt were inaccuracies in media coverage elsewhere. And where he did so, and allowed us to post his response on the record, we were happy to cite his dispute with both our reporting and that of others. In fact, while he asked for a number of his direct remarks on the matter to be kept off record --- requests which we have always honored, even now --- he was often friendly and even complimentary of our work.
We have, in fact, spent years covering various scandals in which Sproul's firms --- Sproul & Associates, Lincoln Strategy Group and Strategic Allied Consulting, among them --- were investigated for voter registration fraud and destruction of Democratic voter registration forms. We noted, as he was eager to point out, that none of those investigations ultimately resulted in criminal indictments against his companies or against him personally.
That, despite years of scandals, allegations and evidence that workers employed by his firms had been found to have tossed voter registrations into dumpsters, shredded Democratic registrations and, as we detailed in 2012, hoaxed voters into believing they were pollsters, rather than GOP-hired registration workers.
In its recent coverage of the FDLE probe and the arrest of Hazard, the Palm Beach Post noted again just a handful of the many allegations against Sproul's employees and companies over the years:
- In 2004, a presidential election year, a trio of Minnesota employees reported they were paid bonuses for signing up George W. Bush supporters --- though not John Kerry supporters --- a fact the attorney general's office described as "troubling."
- In Nevada, a former Sproul employee said that a supervisor destroyed voter registration forms filled out by Democrats. Sproul dismissed him as a disgruntled employee and threatened to sue. Also in Nevada, a couple reported they registered as Democrats with a Sproul worker; their registration never made it to the supervisor of elections.
- In Oregon, Katheline and John Gomez registered with a Sproul worker in 2004. Katheline registered as a Democrat, John as a Republican. Only John's registration made it to the county clerk's office. A subcontractor working for Sproul later said employees were paid only for registering Republicans or for non-Republicans who planned on voting for Bush.
- In Pittsburgh, where a Sproul firm set up outside a library to register voters, librarians got complaints that workers were asking about party affiliations and who voters might cast ballots for before they would register them.
The allegations didn't put a dent in Sproul's booming business. The Republican National Committee paid Sproul firms about $10 million between 2004 and 2012. The Mitt Romney campaign paid a Sproul company about $71,000.
Of course, we have reported on many of the same allegations against Sproul and his companies. Our very first report on the 2012 GOP Voter Registration Fraud scandal cites a number of the same charges cited by Palm Beach Post last week, along with more many.
Despite the serious improprieties alleged to have been carried out by Sproul's companies or its employees while working for the George W. Bush campaign in 2004, subsequent Republican Presidential nominees, including John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012, continued to hire Sproul for his services. Though the RNC was said to have been skittish about it becoming known he was working for them again in 2012, they contracted with him for millions of dollars in exchange for his services.
'You strike me as a straight shooter'
Given our own history with Sproul, his legal threat strikes us as both out of the blue and extraordinarily bizarre.
In addition to many of the incidents reported by Palm Beach Post and others, our reporting has also included details on the arrest (and conviction) on voter registration fraud charges, of others hired by the GOP, such as the head of the firm hired to head up voter registration efforts by the California Republican Party in 2008.
We also noted in the course of our coverage in 2012, how the allegations against Sproul's firms, in more than half a dozen states, mirrored Republican Party accusations against the non-partisan ACORN. The GOP has spent years pretending the four-decade old community organization had been committing "voter fraud" when, in fact, there is no evidence whatsoever that even a single fraudulent vote has ever been cast thanks to an improper registration submitted by an ACORN worker.
In fact, unlike the groups hired to carry out voter registration on behalf of the Republican Party, ACORN --- as even Sproul himself admitted to us at one point via email --- "self-reported" fraudulent voter registrations as they verified and discovered them, before flagging them and turning them into election officials, as required by law. Verification of registrations was something that ACORN did, but the RNC-hired firms such as Strategic Allied Consulting apparently did not.
"That took tremendous courage," Sproul told us at one time when we'd asked him to comment on the phony GOP allegations against ACORN, even as he was fending off similar allegations against his own firm. "Frankly, Republicans should have applauded them for defending the integrity of the system in that case."
"You strike me as a straight shooter," Sproul wrote during another one of our sometimes tense, if generally cordial 2012 email exchanges. "Even if our political views may be different, I'm willing to trust my on the record comments to a straight shooter."
Several times he thanked us "for opening the dialogue" and "for giving me a chance to reply," noting that he would "like my perspective told."
And now, this is the "thanks" we receive? A vague, yet direct threat of legal action? That's a fine how-do-ya-do, Nathan. And a very sad one at that.
Though dogged by voter registration improprieties for years and very publicly fired and tossed under the bus by the RNC and a number of Republican state parties in 2012, Sproul continues to work on various rightwing Republican campaigns, even today.
In his threat email to The BRAD BLOG, Sproul quoted Raymond J. Donovan, Ronald Reagan's Secretary of Labor who was indicted on felony charges before being later acquitted in a court of law, to suggest that he would like to "get [his] reputation back."
That's fine, of course, even as Sproul has long attempted to blame "liberal blogs" for his repeated problems (see the heated exchange between Sproul and an Arizona Fox 31 reporter at the bottom of this report, for example, in which Sproul repeatedly rails against "liberal blogs" over and over). But none of that changes the fact that very serious criminal allegations and convictions in which he, his companies and his employees or contractors are somehow involved, election cycle after election cycle, over at least the past decade, continue to arise. None of that changes the questionable and/or illegal schemes carried out by his workers, as based on his company's own disreputable method for helping to suppress non-Republican voters' opportunity to participate in their own democracy. All of that is now all very well documented, and by media outlets with far more visibility than The BRAD BLOG.
It's certainly understandable that Sproul would want to "get [his] reputation back", after years of seeing it tarnished. ACORN, which legally registered millions of low- and middle-income voters, is now defunct thanks to the years-long Republican effort. They would most certainly like their reputation back as well. But threatening the First Amendment rights of a long-time investigative blogger and journalist who has always treated him in good faith and written accurately about independently verifiable criminal allegations involving him or his companies in one way or another seems a really ill-considered way to try and go about it.
Help The BRAD BLOG keep up the good fight...
Though Sproul's threats of legal action against are unfounded, we take any such threats very seriously. Unlike Sproul, The BRAD BLOG is not funded with tens of millions of dollars from any political party. In fact, it is relies almost solely on reader contributions to continue our decade-plus efforts to shine a spotlight on those who would undermine our (small "d") democratic system of governance.
If you would like to help us continue doing so, as we push back against thuggery of all sorts, please consider a donation to help us fight back. The ability to stand up against such attacks is more important than ever, particularly with yet another election coming up in just a matter of weeks.
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