Political operative Nathan Sproul has made millions of dollars doing one thing: Building a bigger Republican Party.
His past success at recruiting voters has led many political observers to believe that the East Valley resident could be the most effective at what he does in the country.
So good in fact, that the Republican National Committee counted on him two years ago to help deliver victories for President Bush in key battleground states. He was paid nearly $8 million for his efforts in the 2004 election.
Supporters use terms like “political genius” to describe him. Opponents often question his tactics and have accused him of using unethical and illegal methods.
Both descriptions play a part in defining one of the most influential, behind-thescenes political players in Arizona.
This year, he has a big role in the upcoming statewide elections as Arizona Republicans work to expand their majority in both houses of the state Legislature and fend off strong challenges to GOP incumbents in U.S. congressional races.
To do that, the party wants to boost its numbers and bring out Republican voters in November. Sproul and his Tempe-based company, Sproul and Associates, are being counted on heavily to deliver both.
Yet, Sproul doesn’t seek the spotlight — he avoids it. He denied several requests to comment for this article.
“Sproul and Associates is hands down the best company in the country when it comes to registering voters,” said Glenn Hammer, executive director of the Arizona Republican Party.
The Arizona Republican Party has paid Sproul and his company $325,000 this year to bolster its ranks. The theory is simple: Get more voters to register with the party and increase its edge over Democrats.
And it appears Sproul has effectively done that. Matt Salmon, chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, recently said Sproul’s firm has signed up more than 22,000 new Republicans. The number could continue to climb as the financial incentives increase. Currently the GOP is offering $10 for every new voter who registers with the party.
In Arizona, Republicans boast roughly 150,000 more registered voters than Democrats, according Kevin Tyne, deputy secretary of state.
While Sproul rose to the top of his profession, it didn’t always appear politics was his goal. He grew up in Tempe and later studied at Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in Minnesota. While there, he considered becoming a minister.
After graduating in 1994, he took a job as intern for then-Rep. Jon Kyl in Washington, D.C. Shortly afterward, he became the executive director of Arizona’s chapter of the Christian Coalition, where he worked on issues such as ending sex education in schools.
He left there to become the executive director of the Arizona Republican Party, where he served until 2002 when he started Sproul and Associates.
But two years later, Sproul wound up at the center of a national controversy.
He and his firm came under heavy scrutiny in several states, accused of discarding voter registration cards filled out by Democrats.
Additionally, former workers in the key battleground states of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Oregon claimed they were told to register only Republicans and refuse to sign up supporters of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.
Investigations were launched and quickly dropped, except in Oregon, where his company is still part of an ongoing inquiry. That state’s attorney general initiated an investigation after three former Sproul employees accused the firm of destroying Democratic registration forms, which is a felony.
“Any time Nathan is involved in a campaign, that raises red flags for me,” said Michael Frias, director of the Democratic Party’s state campaign efforts.
Sproul has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. But that didn’t stop calls for further inquires. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., asked then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to look into allegations of voter registration fraud and the destruction of voter registration forms in Nevada and Oregon.
But even as the rumors and the accusations swirled, Sproul was paid millions by the Republican National Committee to boost their numbers. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the RNC paid Sproul and Associates more than $7.8 million in 2004 for consulting and various other fees.
“He’s all about winning. Whatever it takes. And he’ll take money from anyone who pays him,” said former Republican state Rep. Steve May, who has worked with and against Sproul in past political campaigns.
“He’s not the only guy in town who does that, but he’s very good at it,” May added.
May now finds himself opposing Sproul. May has aligned himself with Arizona Together, a group that is fighting to oppose the Protect Marriage Arizona initiative. Sproul is working to pass it.
Through August, Sproul and Associates had been paid $347,000 to gather petition signatures, as well as other consulting fees.
Initiative backers want a constitutional ban on samesex marriage, which is already outlawed by state statute. But May, who is gay, points out that several years ago, he and Sproul worked out a deal to garner more support from the gay and lesbian community.
As executive director of the state GOP, May said Sproul helped broker a deal in which Log Cabin Republicans, a gay Republican group, and the state party took out an ad in ECHO Magazine, the state’s largest gay, lesbian and transgender magazine.
The Protect Marriage Arizona proposal falls into the GOP’s overall strategy of getting their voters out to the polls. It’s believed the ballot initiative will help Republicans by driving opponents of gay marriage to vote in November.
This election season, the GOP is defending Rep. J.D. Hayworth and Sen. Jon Kyl from strong challengers. But if Sproul and the party continue to increase registration numbers and get them to the polls, the biggest beneficiary could be the Republican gubernatorial nominee.
Four candidates will face off in Tuesday’s primary for the party’s nomination — Don Goldwater, Mike Harris, Len Munsil and Gary Tupper. The winner will take on Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, who held a commanding lead in recent polls.
And here, too, Sproul has something at stake. Sproul has been working for Munsil as a consultant. Since taking on the job earlier this year, Sproul has been paid about $40,000, less than most of his other contracts, according to state financial records.
Democrats filed a complaint with the Citizens Clean Elections Commission alleging that Munsil’s campaign broke state laws by improperly underpaying consultants. The matter was later dismissed by the commission, 3-2, along party lines.
“It’s not uncommon in politics that political parties make all kinds of charges against people when they can’t win by talking about the issues,” said Tom Liddy, former chairman of the Maricopa County Republican Party and a conservative talk show host.