Hartsell defends campaign spending, plans to hire treasurer

State elections board probing payments to credit cards

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Posted: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 3:45 pm

CONCORD, N.C. -- State Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, a Republican representing Cabarrus and Union counties, said questions surrounding his campaign finance reports have prompted him to start looking for a treasurer, a job he has done himself in the past.

The N.C. State Board of Elections has requested more detailed information regarding payments made from Hartsell’s campaign finance funds to personal credit cards, said Kim Westbrook Strach, the deputy director over campaign finance reporting.

Strach said the descriptions of the expenses given by Hartsell, who has served 12 terms, were not detailed enough to satisfy the reporting required by the state.

For example, one $5,073.78 payment made to American Express on Oct. 31 describes the expense as “Materials, office expense, unreimbursed.” Another payment for $4,380.90 made on Nov. 21 lists the reasons for the expense as “meals, travel, fuel and research expense.”

Strach said the state needs to know the original payee, the date of the transaction and the reason for the expense. The credit card payment is not enough to satisfy the state, she said.

Hartsell said this is solely a reporting problem that he plans to address as quickly as possible.

“I’ve come to the realization that I have tried to do too much by handling the accounting side of my campaign finance reporting,” Hartsell said Tuesday afternoon.

He said he plans to appoint a treasurer within the next few days to help improve his reporting in the future.

Hartsell also has hired Raleigh-based Attorney Roger Knight, who specializes in campaign law, to help him gather the necessary documentation for the state.

“I want to get it right. No more, no less. I have asked Roger to clarify my reports with the state board of elections,” he said.

Knight said, “We’re all very motivated to get this done quickly. It’s a matter of getting the statements. If he doesn’t have them in his possession, we’ll be working on getting them from the credit card companies.”

According to the most recent report submitted by Hartsell to the state on Jan. 8, 2013, the senator’s campaign took in $187,702.10 this election cycle, which began Jan. 1, 2011. Most of that came in the form of contributions from individuals and other political committees. Hartsell reported spending $180,317.17 on expenses for that same time period.

Hartsell has been asked to explain expenses going back to 2008.

When asked why he used personal credit cards to pay for campaign expenses, Fletcher did not have an answer and directed the question to his attorney.

“I can’t speak to Sen. Hartsell’s motivation,” Knight said. “Going forward my strong recommendation would be that he has a dedicated credit card account for campaign financing. We’ll straighten out the ones in the past and get the documentation going forward.”

Strach said that the state is asking for more detailed information, but must review documentation submitted by the senator before it can determine if there has been a violation of campaign finance laws.

“If we determine that there’s a violation other than just reporting issues, that’s something our state board would have to act on,” Strach said.

Hartsell said it’s just a reporting oversight.

“I’m not going to do this anymore. It’s too much. I’m going to get it straight and move forward. That’s all,” he said.

Contact reporter Karen Cimino Wilson: 704-789-9141.

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