On Monday, North Carolina election officials became the latest to announce they were taking a closer look at the unfolding voter registration scandal surrounding a notorious Republican consulting firm hired to sign up new voters in five key election states; Florida, Colorado, Virginia, Nevada and North Carolina.
The firm made headlines last week when potentially fraudulent registration forms were flagged in "at least 11" Florida counties, all submitted by the state Republican Party and collected by Strategic Allied Consulting. The firm is run by GOP operative Nathan Sproul, a former head of the Arizona Christian Coalition and the Arizona Republican Party.
At the center of the controversy are recently submitted registration forms deemed to be "questionable" by states elections officials. The suspicion surrounds "similar-looking signatures, missing information and wrong addresses on the forms," according to the Palm Beach Post. (In the wake of allegations, the Republican Party of Florida, North Carolina, and Colorado pulled the plug on Sproul's voter registration project. The Republican National Committee has also reportedly cut ties with the firm.)
Do the allegations sound familiar? Four years ago, Fox News helped lead the right-wing charge against ACORN, claiming the community activist group's allegedly crooked voter registration work represented a criminal extension of the Obama campaign. In order to bolster its flimsy "voter fraud" attacks, the network repeatedly stressed reports that ACORN canvassers had submitted questionable voter registration forms. (That's actually an allegation of registration fraud, not voter fraud. Moreover, in many states organizations are required by law to turn in all forms they received even if they had reason to believe they were fraudulent.)
In 2008, Fox's evening programs aired more than 50 reports connecting ACORN to "voter fraud" between October 1 and Election Day, according to Nexis. During just one, three-day span (October 8-10) Fox's nighttime programs aired sixteen ACORN segments.
The Fox team was relentless in attacking the left-leaning group and accusing it of unleashing election crimes across the country. (By 2009, a majority of Republicans believed ACORN had stolen the election for Obama.)
Four Octobers ago, the level of "voter fraud" hysteria was quite high on Fox [emphasis added]:
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN: There are huge fears of voter fraud in the presidential election. We're 26 days from the election, one of the biggest horse races in American history. And already there is threat of big trouble. All eyes are on a handful of swing states where several voter fraud investigations are threatening a basic idea, whether or not free and fair elections will be held.
That was October 9, 2008. To date, Van Susteren hasn't found time to wring her hands about the fate of free and fair elections in America in the wake of the GOP's controversy.
Indeed, the response so far to the widening allegations of Republican registration misconduct from the same high profile Fox hosts (Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Van Susteren) who toiled endlessly in the ACORN conspiracy fields four years ago? It's been an eerie silence, suggesting, if not clearly confirming, that previous concerns about voter fraud were nothing more than partisan talking points. (Fox has addressed the Sproul story sporadically in recent days, but not in detail by any of its vocal ACORN critics.)
And it's not just Fox. It seems the entire GOP Noise Machine has made the same awkward decision to mostly ignore the burgeoning registration scandal after having relentlessly fear-mongered the same topic via ACORN four years ago.
However, in the unlikely event that Fox talkers are still looking for a way into the story, all kinds of news hooks remain available:
• Sproul was paid directly by state Republican groups, and according to state party representatives, Sproul's firm was hired at the request of the Republican National Committee in Washington, D.C. The state parties also spent lots and lots of money for Sproul's services. The Colorado Republican Party spent half of its total budget paying for the operative's voter registration drive.
• Sproul has a long history of registration shenanigans. The Nation's Lee Fang raised the red flag back in June with his piece at Republic Report, "Romney Quietly Hires Consulting Firm With Sordid History Of Destroying Democratic Voter Registration Forms."
The operative's troubles began in earnest back in 2004:
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.
Sproul's firm made news again during the 2008 campaign when allegations of destroying voter registration forms were made in Oregon and Nevada. And oh yeah, in Minnesota, Sproul's firm was accused of firing employees for registering Democratic voters.
Let's be clear that tearing up voter registration forms, which Sproul's firm has been accused of, is far worse than allegedly submitting fictional information on forms, which is what ACORN had to deal with in 2008. When forms are torn up, voters whose forms are destroyed won't be able to vote on Election Day, whereas a fictional registrant won't ever try to vote.
As Republican Congressman Chris Cannon noted during a Congressional hearing in May, 2008, "The difference between ACORN and Sproul is that ACORN doesn't throw away or change registration documents after they have been filled out," reported the Huffington Post.
Despite those very serious allegations of tampering with forms, Republicans still wanted to hire Sproul this year, as along as they weren't publicly linked to him.
From the Los Angeles Times, September 28, 2012:
Sproul said he created Strategic Allied Consulting at the RNC's request because the party wanted to avoid being publicly linked to the past allegations. The firm was set up at a Virginia address, and Sproul does not show up on the corporate paperwork.
"In order to be able to do the job that the state parties were hiring us to do, the [RNC] asked us to do it with a different company's name, so as to not be a distraction from the false information put out in the Internet," Sproul said.
• A YouTube clip began to go viral last week, showing a young woman in Colorado out registering voters, but "only Romney" voters. Asked who she worked for, she said worked for the county clerk's office. In fact, she worked for Sproul's firm.
Can you imagine how many times that clip would've aired on Fox News this election cycle if the young woman had been working for a progressive organization, lied about her employment, and was caught admitting she was only interested in registering Obama supporters to vote?
Fox News made its bogus "voter fraud" bed back in 2008 with its ACORN crusade. Now, with the spotlight on allegations of Republican fraud, Fox talkers won't condemn, or even discuss, possible GOP attempts to taint the election process.
Crossposted on County Fair, a Media Matters for America blog.