The state Board of Elections voted unanimously Wednesday that there is “reason to believe” Sen. Fletcher Hartsell improperly used campaign donations to pay personal expenses, forwarding the results of a lengthy probe to state and federal prosecutors.
The elections board’s staff found that Hartsell, a veteran Republican from Cabarrus County, used campaign funds to pay his speeding tickets, for dinners with his family, his haircuts and shoe repairs.
Hartsell used his campaign fund to pay himself more than $345,000 from 2000 to 2012, said Kim Westbrook Strach, the board’s executive director.
From 2009 to 2012, Hartsell used his campaign account to pay more than $109,000 in credit card debts that were not associated with campaign expenses, Strach said.
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Some board members said they believed Hartsell filed vague campaign finance reports with an intention to hide what he was doing.
Campaign laws are written to foster transparency, requiring that candidates properly report their expenditures and contributions.
“I think we see a pattern here of opaque and circuitous disclosures,” said Board Chairman Josh Howard, a Republican. “It bothers me that those go on when the official seems to have generated significant personal debt and is also spending campaign money on what appears to be purely personal purposes.”
Hartsell did not appear at the hearing, instead sitting in the Senate as it debated the state’s budget.
“I’m disappointed,” he said when told of the Board action.
Hartsell’s lawyer, Roger Knight, said his client may have made mistakes, but they were unintentional. Hartsell tried to correct those mistakes, Knight said. Hartsell spent 18 hours over the last two years with state elections staff talking about his campaign reports.
“We went through literally thousands of entries,” Knight said. “Of those, we removed many.”
The board, which has three Republican and two Democratic members, referred the case to prosecutors in Wake, Cabarrus, and the state’s three federal districts.
The decision was a blow for the veteran legislator from Cabarrus County who has held sway in the Senate and has deep roots in his hometown.
Hartsell, who has served in the Senate since 1991, helps lead one of the Senate’s Judiciary committees and its Program Evaluation Committee. He is a vice chairman of the Senate’s Finance Committee.
He was once the county attorney for Cabarrus County and the local school board. Backers of a controversial online charter school that will begin accepting students in the upcoming school year hired Hartsell as their lawyer in their fight for state approval.
Colin Campbell contributed.