Under the Dome

Hartsell sets up legal defense fund with philanthropist’s help

Sen. Fletcher Hartsell has formed a legal defense fund, financed by a longtime wealthy supporter, Fred Eshelman.

The Cabarrus County Republican faces scrutiny by state and federal authorities after the state Board of Elections in June referred its investigation for possible prosecution. The elections board found he spent more than $109,000 from his campaign account between 2009 and 2012 for expenses and credit card debts.

State law prohibits candidates from spending campaign money on personal expenses. Elections investigators concluded those debts were not related to campaign expenses.

Eshelman, a philanthropist and retired pharmaceutical executive who lives in Wilmington, contributed $15,000 to the fund, which was officially formed on Thursday.

Eshelman has contributed heavily to Hartsell’s re-election campaigns in recent years. Hartsell is the Senate’s longest currently serving member.

Hartsell has said he looks forward to responding to the election board’s findings in “a forum where I have the opportunity to exercise my due process rights.”