Republicans are playing defense over the role of a well-paid operative, Nathan Sproul, in a voter-registration scandal that emerged in Florida and has spread to other states.

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For more than a year, the Republican National Committee (RNC) has portrayed Democrats as the villains when it comes to voter fraud.

In an article on CNN’s website, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said: “Democrats know they benefit from election fraud.”

The tables have turned, and Republicans are playing defense over the role of a well-paid operative, Nathan Sproul, in a voter-registration scandal that emerged in Florida and has spread to other states.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said it was reviewing “numerous” claims involving a company Sproul runs to determine if a criminal investigation is warranted.

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Complaints have surfaced in 10 Florida counties, among them claims that registrations had similar signatures or false addresses, or were filed under the names of dead people. In other cases, party affiliations appeared to have been changed.

In recent days, similar claims against Sproul have arisen in Nevada and Colorado. Sproul, 40, a former executive director of the Arizona Christian Coalition and the Republican Party in Arizona, is well-known in political circles there.

Since 2004, Sproul’s companies — he has operated under several corporate names — have collected more than $17.6 million from Republican committees, candidates and the super PAC American Crossroads, mostly for voter-registration operations, according to campaign-finance records.

The Republican Party, which paid Sproul about $3 million this year for work in five states, has severed its ties with him, saying it has no tolerance for voter-registration fraud.

But questions about Sproul’s methods first emerged in 2004, when one of his companies, Sproul & Associates, was paid nearly $8 million during the election cycle. The payouts made the company the seventh-biggest recipient of campaign expenditures by the committee, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Sproul declined to be interviewed. In a statement issued by his lawyer, Sproul said the size of his voter operation — he claims to have registered more than 500,000 people in more than 40 states through election cycles — would invariably lead to a few problems. “Inevitably, there have been accusations of ‘bad registrations,’ isolated instances that have been thoroughly investigated not only internally but by the appropriate legal authorities,” the statement said.

Mike Hellon, a former chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, said Sproul had been considered “very controversial” in Arizona Republican circles before the recent accusations, partly because of past voter-registration investigations. “There are questions among a lot of people in the party about how he gets these contracts and why he gets contracts,” Hellon said.

Sproul is one of the biggest players in a for-profit industry that relies on low-paid seasonal workers who must be quickly trained in the legalities of voter registration.

“Republican Voter Registration Captains Needed,” said an ad posted on an online-jobs board at Durham Technical Community College in North Carolina. In addition to $12 an hour, workers might be eligible for college-internship credit, the ad said.

Sproul runs at least five affiliated companies that have conducted registration drives, polling and political consulting. According to a lawsuit filed against him by a former employee over pay, Sproul changed his company’s name in 2008 to Lincoln Strategy Group, from Sproul & Associates, after the negative publicity.

More recently, Sproul has operated under the name Strategic Allied Consulting.

Susan Bucher, superintendent of elections in Palm Beach County, Fla., said that about 100 questionable voter registrations had been flagged there. Of those, more than half involved changing a voter’s party affiliation to Republican or independent.

The voter-registration fraud accusations against Sproul’s companies seem to fit a pattern.

In Nevada, a complaint filed last month alleged that a woman, Cathy Sue Yancey, was told to tear up a form in which she registered as a Democrat and fill out another one without marking her party affiliation.

The complaint was filed by another woman who said she witnessed the event on Sept. 13. That woman, Gina Greisen, said she and a group of friends had been approached by a man who told them they needed to update their voter registration. “He talked about voter fraud and mentioned ACORN and illegals voting,” Griesen said.

The election forms were traced to a Sproul operation. Similar allegations prompted an investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice in 2004.

In that case, a couple told police in Roseburg that they had been approached by a woman outside a Walmart who asked them to register to vote. The husband, John Gomez, filled out a card registering as a Republican. His wife, Katheline, registered as a Democrat.

About a month later, Gomez received a ballot in the mail, but his wife did not, the Oregon authorities said. Her registration form seemed to have evaporated. Investigators determined the woman who solicited the couple had been paid by Sproul & Associates.

The woman told investigators she was paid only when she registered Republicans or those who said they would vote for President George W. Bush.

The Oregon inquiry focused on more than 100 fraud complaints, many pointing to operations run by Sproul, but did not result in any charges. A lawyer for Sproul said at the time that the company had a system in place to prevent and detect fraud and forgery.

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