#NCGA: Fletcher Hartsell, Untouchable?

hartsellNews broke this week that state Senate leaders were appointing long-time senator Fletcher Hartsell (R-Cabarrus) to co-chair “The Joint Legislative Study Committee on The Affordable Care Act.”   One wonders why legislators didn’t start “studying” ObamaCare months or years ago with any of their existing committees in the House or the Senate.

What will this new committee do once it realizes that ObamaCare really is bad?  Will we actually be broaching the subject of nullification?  I won’t hold my breath.  

This has all the makings of a useful PR tool to benefit some legislative reelection bids (as well as the US Senate bid of a certain sitting legislator).

Back to Hartsell, though.  In January 2013, news broke that Hartsell had used campaign credit cards to pay off $100,000 in personal debt. He also paid reimbursements to himself and his law firm from his campaign account. (All of that is against the law.)   The state board of elections snapped into action, promising an audit of Hartsell’s campaign finances.  Here we are in February 2014 and we haven’t heard anything more about it.  We couldn’t find any record of an audit in the section of the state board of elections web site devoted to Hartsell’s campaign finances.

By the way, Hartsell chairs the Senate standing committee on Program Evaluation.  This committee audits state government entities to evaluate their competence and effectiveness.  What are the chances this episode regarding Hartsell’s campaign audit gets the state board of elections dragged in front of Hartsell’s senate committee? 

Why would the powers-that-be in Raleigh be treating Hartsell with kid gloves?  Perhaps it’s his skill as a political fundraiser and campaign money man: 

[…] The interaction of 501(c)4 groups and 527s can further obscure the money chase.

For example, a group called the Constitution Trust spent $272,594 in 2012 to air a biographical ad for Grey Mills, a Republican House member running for lieutenant governor. The bulk of the Constitution Trust’s money came from the Alliance for Tomorrow, a 501(c)4 based in Cabarrus County. 

“The Alliance is a group of local businessmen who have some interest in the area,” said Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, a member of the group’s board.

Originally, the group was formed to promote the prospects for an agricultural research campus in Kannapolis. That campus’ first building opened in 2008.

Asked why a group founded to boost the prospects of a research campus might have an interest in a campaign for lieutenant governor, Hartsell said, “I don’t want to get into the rationale. The board makes its decisions.”

Donors to the Alliance are not a matter of public record. […]

It appears Hartsell may be currently utilizing his fundraising skills on behalf of the Thom Tillis US Senate campaign.

The senator is still slugging it out in court over allegations his law firm mishandled a family trust.   Media reports indicate that there may be a connection between the credit-cards-campaign debt brouhaha and the family trust court case:

[…] But Hartsell has experienced recent turbulence. The News & Observer reported this month that his campaign-finance reports for 2011 and 2012 show that he paid off nearly $100,000 in personal credit card bills using campaign funds. He also paid thousands more in reimbursements to himself and his law firm from campaign accounts.

Hartsell faced no opposition in the primary or general election campaigns in 2012.

Hartsell has previously acknowledged in an interview that while he thinks the spending was primarily related to his campaign, he may have made invalid payments covering personal expenses with campaign money. If it happened, he said he would repay those expenses. The State Board of Elections is investigating.

There is no evidence that the trust allegations and the campaign matters are related. But records do show a payment from Hartsell’s campaign to his brother, in part for the brother’s use of a vehicle owned within the Millses’ trust.[…]