State Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, whose campaign spending has been referred to state and federal prosecutors for investigation, said in a statement Thursday he looks forward to responding in a different “forum,” alluding to a possible courtroom fight.
“If this process continues,” Hartsell said, “it will continue in a forum where I have the opportunity to exercise my due process rights. I will use them to respond to the complaint with the same commitment to transparency and integrity I have brought to all my public service.”
The state Board of Elections voted unanimously on Wednesday to refer its lengthy investigation into Hartsell’s campaign spending to authorities who could bring criminal charges.
The Cabarrus County Republican, the chamber’s longest currently serving member, was found to have spent more than $109,000 from his campaign account between 2009 and 2012 to pay expenses and credit card debts that officials said were not related to campaign expenses.
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State law prohibits candidates from spending campaign money on personal expenses. Candidates are also required to file accurate disclosure reports.
Hartsell used the campaign account to pay for speeding tickets, hair cuts, shoe repairs, life insurance, meals with his family and more, officials said in a Wednesday hearing. Hartsell has been in the Senate since 1991, but Board of Elections staff said his campaign account had never been audited until an article in The News & Observer triggered a review that started in 2013.
Hartsell said in his statement, issued Thursday, that he has always tried hard to follow campaign laws – laws that allow legislators to use campaign funds on expenses that arise from holding public office.
“I am very disappointed in the State Board’s action,” Hartsell said. “From the first campaign report I filed in 1990, I have strived to follow campaign finance laws. When I filed my reports for the 2009-2012 time period being examined by the Board, I believed they fully complied with the law. In fact, in 2009 I won an award from Democracy North Carolina for the thoroughness of my campaign reporting. I have already demonstrated that if any discrepancy or problem exists, I will take the necessary action to make it right, and I am committed to continuing to do so.”
Hartsell did not attend the board hearing Wednesday. His lawyer, Roger Knight was there. Knight told board members he advised Hartsell not to attend. Hartsell did spend 18 hours over the last two years combing through his campaign reports with board staff and answering questions.
He did not have access to an investigative report of more than 700 pages that board staff compiled in the investigation. That report is not public, but a summary was presented at Wednesday’s hearing.
Hartsell said in the statement that the time period covered by the elections review coincided with a period of busy lawmaking work.
“Campaign finance law allows legislators to claim costs associated with holding office in addition to campaign-related expenses,” Hartsell said. “During the 2009-10 and 2011-12 legislative sessions, due to a busy legislative workload and a tremendous amount of time devoted to that work, I incurred significant ‘holding office’ and campaign-related expenses.”
He said he helped on a range of efforts on behalf of constituents.
“Beginning in 2011,” he said, “I chaired and co-chaired four legislative committees and authored at least 100 bills that became law – all with limited staff assistance.”
He continued: “I deeply respect the institution of the Senate. In my 25 years of service, I have tried to avoid taking any action that might compromise this honorable body, undermine my personal integrity or cause embarrassment to my family.
“Throughout this investigation, the Board has compelled me to produce thousands of documents and spend more than 18 hours in interviews with investigators. I have done all of this, yet have never been given access to the over 800-page report the Board compiled in response to the documents and testimony.”