Politics is a lot like business in the real world. In business, people form relationships with people because they need something from them. In most cases, those relationships end when that need is satisfied. (Some people, unfortunately, mistake those relationships for honest-to-goodness friendships.)
In politics, everybody is happy and friends when you all have that common goal: getting that bill passed, getting that money from those contributors, winning that election. But when the mission is over, and the smoke clears, everyone tends to move on to the next thing. Convenient amnesia sets in.
Since the state elections board announced its decision to send Fletcher Hartsell’s case to prosecutors, I’ve had a chance to talk to a few of Hartsell’s colleagues on Jones Street. One of the most memorable quotes? This one:
“That <expletive deleted> needed to have been gone yesterday!”
That seemed to be the consensus among the folks I talked to. Are they all concerned about the integrity of the General Assembly? Maybe. But I bet it has more to do with fear that people will start scrutinizing their own campaign reports.
Hartsell has a reputation for working well with Democrats in the Senate. So much so that they even gave him a committee chairmanship when they had the majority. But with these latest revelations, even those folks are keeping their distance from the gentleman from Cabarrus. It appears he’s even lost Big-Mouth Barry™, the N&O’s race-baiter-in-residence:
As a blissfully single man with no kids, my buddy Eddie often ate his meals standing over his kitchen sink and from a can.
State Sen. Fletcher Hartsell apparently has the same attitude, sort of. Difference is, when Hartsell’s whole family eats, his constituents eat.
That’s what Hartsell, a Cabarrus County Republican who is being investigated for the improper expenditure of campaign funds, told the Board of Elections. He argued that he was allowed to spend campaign money on supping with his family because family members are his constituents, too.
Unlike Hartsell, though, the board wasn’t buying. Board chairman Josh Howard, in an N&O story last week, said, “I think we see a pattern here of opaque and circuitous disclosures.”
In other words, Hartsell is accused of using the moolah that political supporters contributed for his political campaign on things he shouldn’t have – and then trying to hide it. The bipartisan board unanimously reached that decision, its members said, even after giving “the greatest latitude” to Hartsell’s protestations of innocence and his explanations. (His “hard sell,” you might say – but shouldn’t.)
The board has forwarded its findings to local prosecutors, who’ll determine if his profligacy amounts to a crime.
That’s legit, Hartsell said of the untold amounts spent on his tonsorial upkeep, because were he not in the Senate, he might become a hippie and let his locks grow unregulated. In justifying charging part of his license renewal fee to his campaign, he reportedly told the board he didn’t know if he would drive the five cars he owns were he not in the Senate.
It may be, alas, easy for Hartsell to vote against raising the minimum wage or the debt ceiling or bailing out U.S. banks or helping farmers if he has a publicly funded piggy bank from which to pay off his 10 – count ’em, TEN – credit cards.
Hmm, where might one sign up for that kind of fiscal conservatism?
Hartsell has vowed to defend himself against the allegations “with the same commitment to transparency and integrity I have brought to all my public service.”
Uh-oh. Lets hope that one pair of the footwear he had re-soled was waders – because it’s fixing to get deep in that courtroom.
Go easy on the guy, Barry. According to his campaign reports, Fletch tossed $50 to your homies at the NAACP. *That’s GOT to count for something.*
Barry touched on some of the more interesting things in Hartsell’s report. Here are some more:
Tickets to athletic events at UNC, NC State, Duke and App. State
- 11/22/2010 UNC CH 103 SOUTH BLDG CHAPEL HILL, NC 27599
TICKETS FOR CONSTITUENTS 1 Check $100.00 $100.00
- 02/12/2011 DUKE UNIVERSITY PO BOX 90555 DURHAM, NC 27708
TICKETS FOR CONSTITUENTS 1 Check $120.00 $120.00
- 01/27/2013 NCSU SPECIAL EVENTS CB 7120 RALEIGH, NC 27695-7120
TICKETS FOR CONSTITUENT/CONTRIBUTOR Check $77.00 $154.00
- 03/02/2014 NCSU SPECIAL EVENTS CB 7120 RALEIGH, NC 27695-7120
GAME TICKET 1 Check $37.00 $37.00
- 10/30/2014 APPALACHIAN STATE UNIVERSITY PO BOX 32002 BOONE, NC 28608
GAME COURTESY FOR WORKERS/CONSTITUENTS/VOLUNTEERS Check $64.00 $118.0
- 10/29/2009 UNCAA 208 W FRANKLIN ST CAMPUS BOX 6105 CHAPEL HILL, NC
TICKETS FOR CONSTITUENTS 1 Check $200.00 $200.00
- 09/27/2014 NC STATE SPECIAL EVENTS CAMPUS BOX 7120 RALEIGH, NC
EVENT ADMISS W/CONSTITUENT 1 Check $140.00 $140.00
Most of us — if we need a new suit — we head over to Belk or Men’s Wearhouse or Jos. A. Bank. Not ol’ Fletch. He dug into his campaign treasury and contacted The Tom James Company — the high end clothing provider / tailor that comes to you and custom makes your clothes.
- 04/25/2008 TOM JAMES COMPANY 1200 E MOREHEAD STSTE 190 CHARLOTTE, NC
SPECIAL EVENT ATTIRE 1 Check $224.03 $564.40
06/03/2008 TOM JAMES COMPANY 1200 E MOREHEAD ST STE 190 CHARLOTTE, NC
SPECIAL EVENT ATTIRE PORTION ONLY 1 Check $340.37 $564.40
Oh, and let’s not forget one of those really important campaign expenses — The Studebaker Drivers Club:
- 01/26/2010 STUDEBAKER DRIVERS CLUB PO BOX 1743 MAPLE GROVE, MN 55311
- 11/29/2014 STUDEBAKER DRIVERS CLUB SOUTH BEND, IN
ANN MEMBERSHIP, CHARITY CONTRIB 1 Check $50.00 $50.00
And we CAN’T forget the meals purchased by the campaign at The Umstead Spa’s five-star / five-diamond Heron’s restaurant:
- 10/19/2013 FLETCHER L HARTSELL JR 129 OVERBROOK DR NE CONCORD, NC 28025
MEAL REPAYMENT – HERONS 1 Check $725.00 $975.00
And then there was this payment to a Concord Urgent Care for a visit the campaign claimed was to treat an injury the senator suffered AT WORK:
- 12/01/2008 CABARRUS URGENT CARE CHURCH ST N CONCORD, NC
IMMEDIATE CARE FOR FALL WHILE ATTENDING LEG. MEETING $160.03 $160.03
In 2009, the campaign felt a little charitable (toward someone else) and paid the electric bill for A CHURCH:
- 02/01/2009 PUBLIC SERVICE OF N.C.
UTILITIES PAYMENT FOR & ON BEHALF OF NEW LIFE INTERNATIONAL MINISTERIES(NON-PROFIT0 (INC. LATE FEE)
Check $1063.64 $1063.64