What began last week as a trickle—a report from the Palm Beach Post that the Florida Republican Party was cutting ties with a firm that turned in "questionable" voter-registration forms in one county—has now grown into a pretty ugly flood. Turns out the Florida GOP paid the firm, Strategic Allied Consulting, to do voter registration, while the Republican National Committee paid the same firm millions to register voters in four other battleground states: Virginia, North Carolina, Nevada, and Colorado. The group allegedly submitted forms with dead voters' information and fake information—and in some cases, may have changed voters' party affiliations to Republican without alerting the voters. More disturbing, the firm the Republicans were paying, Strategic Allied Consulting, is one of several that GOP consultant Nathan Sproul has run over the last decade. Along the way, Sproul's companies have been accused of everything from refusing to register Democratic voters to shredding the voter-registration forms of Democrats. Yet Sproul continued to get lucrative contracts from the GOP. And the conservative media has had precious little to say about it.
Josh Marshall called the news a "thunderclap of schadenfreude" and it's hard to think of a more apt description. Republicans and their media backers have long criticized mass voter-registration drives, often pushed by progressive—if not necessarily partisan—groups. The 2008 ACORN voter registration non-scandal has been a cultural touchstone for the right. But what's alleged against Sproul and Srategic Allied Consulting is is far more serious.
ACORN's 2008 situation revealed problems not unusual to mass voter-registration drives. First, hundreds of thousands of voter-registration forms turned out to be duplicates; the voters were already registered and for whatever reason—likely because they weren't sure—filled out a form anyway. That lead to hundreds of thousands of forms being rejected. Meanwhile, some paid canvassers faked voter-registration forms, filling them out for Mickey Mouse or John Smith. ACORN's organizers flagged problematic ballots and turned information over to the authorities. In the end, several employees were charged with forgery. But there was no evidence that ACORN was trying to influence the outcome of an election, nor would any of these incidents result in voter fraud. Even if Mickey Mouse was registered to vote, it hardly means Mickey Mouse could cast a ballot. The canvassers were trying to make an easy buck.
While there's no evidence that ACORN's errors had any impact on election outcomes, it didn't stop the conservative feeding frenzy. Breitbart.com was particularly prolific and, let's say, creative in its coverage of the non-scandal, with headlines like "ACORN Corruption Runs Deep" and, as ACORN began to shut down, "Gangster Group Will Be Bankrupt Soon But Fake Spinoff Groups Will Carry On the Corruption." No worries about downplaying the news when a progressive group was involved.
The efforts by the Republican Party and Sproul are significantly more disturbing than ACORN's error-prone registration cards, primarily because these incidents could affect election outcomes. The consultant, Nathan Sproul, had already established himself as a shady character in 2004, when one of his previous companies, Voters Outreach of America, was accused of major legal violations, including destroying Democrats' voter-registration forms and refusing to register non-Republicans. By destroying Democratic voter registrations, as Sproul's group allegedly did, people who believe themselves to be registered could be turned away at the polls. Furthermore, the track record of accusations, including the suspicious forms turned in this year, seem to indicate a top-down policy of the Republican Party more than poor decision-making by some low-level canvassers.
When the news broke, the Republican National Committee ended its relationship with Sproul. But that left an obvious question: If Sproul was accused of such suspicious activities in 2004, why was the RNC still doing business with him? After making a total of $8 million in 2004, Sproul had already made $3 million this year from the RNC alone. (He was also getting six-figure checks from several state parties, as Lee Fang reports.)
But oddly enough, in spite of all the questions this news seems to raise, Nathan Sproul and Strategic Allied Consulting barely seem to exist in the conservative corners of the media. A search at RedState yielded 0 results. So did a search at Breitbart.com. Even Matt Drudge, who never seems to let a juicy headline pass by, ignored one when it came to Sproul and his company—or to this actual evidence of a political party cavorting with genuinely sketchy voter-registration efforts. We must give Tucker Carlson'sThe Daily Caller credit, though: It did run a single republished AP story—one with no mention of Sproul's long history with the GOP.
Compare that to the number of stories mentioning ACORN over the last four years: RedState has 68, The Daily Caller 128, and Drudge 166. A search for "ACORN" on Breitbart.com, meanwhile, reveals a staggering 1,450 entries.
Given how loudly these media sites have criticized legitimate and non-partisan voter registration drives for mistakes, in some cases effectively ending the efforts with a barrage of negative press, the silence here speaks volumes. Here is an actual example of the activity so many GOP activists are constantly searching for: evidence of voter- registration drives being used for partisan purposes.
But then again, there's likely no time to write about a genuine case of voter registration manipulation when you're so busy producing new stories about President Obama's relation to ACORN, a group that no longer exists, five years after the fact.