A huge expense
In the months before the presidential election, a firm called Sproul & Associates
launched voter registration drives in at least eight states, most of them swing
states. The group-run by Nathan Sproul, former head of the Arizona Christian Coalition
and the Arizona Republican Party-had been hired by the Republican National Committee.
Sproul got into a bit of trouble last fall when, in certain states, it came
out that the firm was playing dirty tricks in order to suppress the Democratic
vote: concealing their partisan agenda, tricking Democrats into registering
as Republicans, surreptitiously re-registering Democrats and Independents as
Republicans, and shredding Democratic registration forms.
The scandal got a moderate amount of local coverage in some states--and then
the election was over. Now anyone who brought up Nathan Sproul, or any of the
other massive crimes and improprieties committed on or prior to Election Day,
was shrugged off as a dealer in "conspiracy theory."
It seems that Sproul did quite a lot of work for the Republicans. Exactly how
much did he do? More specifically, how much did the RNC pay Sproul & Associates?
If you went online last week to look up how much money Sproul received from
the Republicans in 2004, you would have found that, according to the party (whose
figures had been posted by the Center for Responsive Politics), the firm was
In fact, the RNC paid Sproul a great deal more than that. From an independent
study of the original data filed by the Republicans with the Federal Election
Commission, it is clear that Sproul was paid a staggering $8.3 million for its
work against the Democrats.
How the true figures came the be revealed
On Dec. 3, 2004, the Republican National Committee filed their Post-General
Report with the FEC, accounting for all expenditures between Oct. 14 and Nov.
Among the Itemized Disbursements there were listed six expenditures to Sproul
& Associates, amounting to a total sum of $4.5 million. Three of them were
for "Political Consulting," and the other three were for "Voter
Registration Costs." The RNC paid Sproul the biggest amount on the day
before the election: $1,668,733.
On Jan. 7, 2005 and again on May 3, 2005, the RNC sent in revised reports.
Those items were unchanged in all of them.
After they received the RNC's second revised report, the FEC expressed dissatisfaction
with the vague phrase "Voter Registration Costs." In a May 18 letter
to Michael Retzer, Treasurer of the RNC, the FEC requested that itemized disbursements
labeled thus be further clarified.
On June 17, the RNC submitted a (third) revised report. In it, those three
suspicious Sproul expenditures labeled "Voter Registration Costs"
had been changed to "Political Consulting." As a "clarification,"
it was as vague as possible. Although it only raised more questions, there seems
to be no letter in the FEC database concerning that unedifying correction.
Moreover, there are some big surprises buried in the paperwork. It turned out
that the RNC paid Sproul not only for their pre-election work, but also paid
them for work after the election. According to their Year-End Report, filed
on Jan. 28, 2005, the RNC paid Sproul for "Political Consulting" in
December-long after all the voter registration drives had ended.
And two months later, when the RNC filed their amended Year-End Report on May
3, the dates of those December expenditures mysteriously changed. A payment
of $210,176, once made on Dec. 20, was changed to Dec. 22. A payment of $344,214,
initially recorded on Dec. 22, was changed to Dec. 9.
As to why Sproul was being paid in December, and why the dates were changed,
one can only speculate. But it may be worth noting that the Ohio recount took
place from Dec. 13 through Dec. 28.
Because these amendments were made in 2005, the Center for Responsive Politics'
opensecrets.org mistakenly allocated that money to the 2006 cycle. When we informed
them of these missing numbers yesterday, CRP was quick to adjust them. They
also included two more expenditures: a $323,907 payment for more "Political
Consulting" (10/12/04) and $450,257 for "Mailing Costs" (10/04/04).
And there was more-much more.
The documents also suggest that the RNC may have changed the dates of nine payments
to suggest expenditures in 2005, thereby shifting focus from the 2004 election.
In going through the documents, CRP located nine expenditures from the future:
Sproul somehow received a total of $1,323,154 between Sept. 2 and Sept. 29,
2005. Another $472,642 is hidden in 2005. Four of those prospective items were
(or will be) for "Generic Media Buys" or "Lodging, Transportation."
The other four are (or will be) for "Voter Registration Efforts"-surely
an expense incurred in September of last year, not this year.
Larry Noble, executive director of CRP, considers such future expenditures
for, say, "Lodging, Transportation" rather odd, but he gives the RNC
the benefit of the doubt. "My guess is that it's an error," he suggests.
"It's possible that they're cleaning up voter registration lists in September,
but it's also possible they made a mistake."
Even if that mistaken date is just a typo, it is, to say the least, not likely
that they made the same mistake in nine uniquely dated items for 2004.
In any case, all the payments by the RNC to Sproul add up to a whopping $8,359,161-making
it the RNC's eighth biggest expenditure of the 2004 campaign.
Sproul is currently under investigation by the Oregon Attorney General's office,
for altering the voter registration forms of several thousand students in that
state. Whether the new numbers are in part mistaken, they represent a huge expense
for the Republicans. Given Sproul's history of serious electoral mischief, affecting
countless Democratic voters in the last election, it is important that we ask
some sober questions: Where did all that money come from? Why did the RNC suppress
their real expenditures? And what exactly did Sproul do for all that pay? If
we're going to get some reasonable answers, the FEC must understake a very thorough
audit of the books.