State Senator Fletcher Hartsell may face criminal charges if the State Board of Elections has its way. It found between $100,000 and $300,000 in political contributions were used to finance Hartsell’s personal spending. On Wednesday, the board unanimously referred the case to state and federal prosecutors.
When it comes to how North Carolina politicians spend campaign cash, there’s a basic rule of thumb to follow. "But for my either holding office or running for office, would I have incurred this expense," says Josh Lawson, spokesman for the State Board of Elections.
For the last two years, investigators have been looking into Senator Hartsell’s campaign finance records and they found a pattern, says Lawson - "an infinitely elastic view of what is permissible under state law would be."
Senator Hartsell laid out that view during some 18 hours of interviews with investigators in which he defended his purchases. This included using campaign funds to pay for dinners with his wife and child, which Hartsell defended because they are constituents. The board found that "was somewhat laughable," according to Lawson.
Plus haircuts, building up his library of National Geographic DVDs, paying his life insurance premiums and auto insurance right down to renewing his driver's license.
"He really tried to argue but for being a state senator he wouldn’t need a drivers license."
Or apparently shoes. He spent $600 of campaign money repairing two pairs of shoes and told the board "he wouldn’t own those two pairs of shoes but for being a senator," according to Lawson. Hartsell even charged his campaign $3,000 to repair the heater in a commercial property he owns and rents out to a day care in Concord.
Lawson lays out Hartsell's rational:
"If the property fell into disrepair, he would be dinged for that as a representative. So to spare his reputation he decided he would personally finance through his campaign repairs to that property."
As amusing as these examples are, Lawson says the board found much more significant issues.
"Senator Hartsell would shift personal debt into his campaign by filtering everything through between 10 or 25 personal credit cards. The board found at least $25,000 of banned personal spending, and question more than $100,000 on top of that."
The State Board of Elections has sent their full report, nearly 800 pages, to the district attorney’s office in Cabarrus and Wake counties to see if criminal charges should be brought against Senator Hartsell.
And the feds may get involved as well. The report found tens of thousands of dollars of questionable deductions with the IRS – and show Hartsell’s campaign paid the senator $345,000 over a 12 year span.
Calls for comment to Senator Hartsell went unanswered. Hartsell has served in the Senate for 24 years.