By Michael Isikoff, NBC News
A campaign worker linked to a controversial Republican consulting firm has been arrested in Virginia and charged with throwing voter registration forms into a dumpster.
The suspect, Colin Small, 31, was described by a local law enforcement official as a “supervisor” in a Republican Party financed operation to register voters in Rockingham County in rural Virginia, a key swing state in the Nov. 6 election. He was arrested after a local business owner in the same Harrisonburg, Va., shopping center where the local GOP campaign headquarters is located spotted Small tossing a bag into the trash, according to a statement Thursday by the Rockingham County Sheriff’s office. The bag was later found to contain eight voter registration forms, it said. The arrest was reported Thursday night by WWBT-TV in Richmond.
The case comes on the heels of a controversy last month over the activities of Strategic Allied Consulting, an Arizona based consulting firm that was paid $3 million by the Republican National Committee this year to register voters in five battleground states, including Virginia. The firm, run by veteran GOP operative Nathan Sproul, was recently fired by the RNC following reports that its workers had submitted hundreds of suspicious voter registration forms in Florida.
Sean Spicer, communications director for the RNC, told NBC News Thursday night that Small has now been fired as well, and that he had been directly employed by a payroll company called Pinpoint, which was previously used by Strategic Allied Consulting to pay workers for the GOP registration drive being run by the consulting company.
Small lists himself on his LinkedIn resume as a “Grassroots field director at Republican National Committee” from August 2012 to the present. But Spicer denied that Small was ever directly employed by the RNC and said he will be “told to take that down.” Small was reportedly in jail Thursday night and could not be reached for comment.
Strategic Allied Consulting also tried to distance itself from the arrested campaign worker. “The relationship between Strategic Allied and Colin Small ended on September 27th, when our firm stopped running voter registration programs in Virginia and other states. We had no contact with Small or any other voter registration worker at any point thereafter,” a spokesman for the firm said in a statement emailed to NBC News. “The reprehensible conduct it appears Small engaged in happened nearly three weeks later. Strategic Allied had nothing to do with such regrettable, illegal activity. We hope he is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Spicer, the spokesman for the RNC, said that after the RNC and the Republican Party of Virginia severed their relationships with Strategic Allied Consulting, the state party continued to use some of the firm’s same workers, including Small, by paying them through Pinpoint.
“The actions taken by this individual are a direct contradiction of both his training and explicit instructions given to him,” said Pat Mullins, the chairman of the Virginia Republican Party, in a statement Thursday night. “The Republican Party of Virginia will not tolerate any action by any person that could threaten the integrity of our electoral process.”
The Rockingham County Sheriff’s office said that, after an investigation and “lengthy” consultations with local prosecutors, Small was arrested and charged with eight felony counts and four misdemeanors under Virginia voter fraud laws and one misdemeanor count of obstruction of justice. “There is no indication that this activity was widespread in our jurisdiction; it appears to be very limited in nature but there is the possibility that additional charges may be filed in the future if it is deemed appropriate,” said the statement from Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson.
It is not clear what motive Small might have had for throwing away the registration forms. Voters in Virginia do not register by party so there is no way to know whether the recovered registration forms were from Democratic or Republican voters. One GOP source said that a campaign worker could be tempted to throw away forms that have incomplete information since there are penalties under Virginia law for not submitting completed registration forms within 15 days after they are signed. It could not be determined Thursday night if the forms allegedly tossed by Small were incomplete.
Sproul’s companies have been accused by Democrats in the past of engaging in tactics aimed at suppressing voter turnout, including throwing away Democratic registration forms. Sproul has denied any wrongdoing and no charges against his companies have been filed. But authorities in Florida said they are conducting a statewide investigation of Strategic Allied’s operations there following reports of suspicious registration forms submitted by its workers, including forms with phony addresses and similar looking signatures. Sproul blamed the suspicious forms on a few “bad apples” who were working for him.