Oregon's attorney general opened a criminal investigation Wednesday into allegations that Democratic voter registration forms were destroyed or discarded by a political consulting firm working for the Republican National Committee.
The allegations involve a voter registration drive conducted by Sproul & Associates, a Phoenix-based consulting organization that was hired by the RNC earlier this year and is headed up by the former executive director of the Arizona Republican Committee, Nathan Sproul.
Sproul has become entangled in controversial allegations in at least three states where his company was conducting registration drives paid for by the RNC.
RNC officials acknowledged Wednesday that Sproul was paid to conduct the registrations. But they characterized the controversy as a Democratic "ploy" and charged that supporters of Sen. John F. Kerry had engaged in rampant voter fraud that had gained less attention.
Both Democrats and Republicans use paid consultants to register voters, but laws in most states require that they register and submit applications for any individual regardless of party affiliation.
In many cases, the consultants do not identify themselves as working for a political party. Sproul & Associates sometimes identified its registration program as Voter Outreach.
Allegations about destroyed or dumped registration forms have been lodged in two of Sproul's registration drives, in Nevada and Oregon.
A Nevada employee, who claimed he saw Democratic registrations destroyed, was disgruntled and had been fired, Sproul said in a telephone interview.
"It is absolutely false," he said.
A man identifying himself as a Sproul employee made similar allegations to local news media this week about registrations in Oregon. But Sproul said he did not know him.
Kevin Neely, a spokesman for Oregon Atty. Gen. Hardy Myers, a Democrat, said a criminal probe had begun into "allegations that they destroyed or threw away completed voter registration forms."
Meanwhile, a manager of the Medford, Ore., public library system said Wednesday she denied Sproul employees access to the city's libraries to register voters after she found misleading statements on a letter last month from the company seeking permission to use the libraries.
Meghan O'Flaherty, manager of the Medford library headquarters, said she received a written request to use library facilities last month from Sproul & Associates, which identified itself as a "nonpartisan voter registration drive, America Votes!"
O'Flaherty looked into the group and determined that America Votes! was a Democratic organization, but later learned that Sproul & Associates was affiliated with Republicans. An e-mail list of library officials in Oregon turned up other instances of library officials who had been contacted by Sproul & Associates, she said. The requests were denied.
Sproul said the letter's use of America Votes! was a "misunderstanding."
Another Sproul employee in Charleston, W.Va., told a newspaper there in August that she quit her job after she was told to register only individuals who would confirm they were supporting President Bush. Sproul dismissed her allegations, saying that in his view nothing improper had occurred.