RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - The most powerful man in the North Carolina House of Representatives amended five years of campaign finance reports last month after an audit by the North Carolina State Board of Elections.
Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican from Cleveland County, made the changes after the audit found his campaign had failed to itemize tens-of-thousands of dollars in payments the campaign made with a credit card.
State law allows candidates to use credit cards to pay for campaign expenses but the law also requires that details of each purchase made with a card be itemized.
Audit raised questions in spring
The random audit of Moore's campaign began this past spring and focused on 2011 through 2015. As a result of the audit, board of elections staff assisted Moore's campaign treasurer with amending the reports to detail all purchases made with credit cards.
Moore has used up to three different credit cards to pay for campaign expenses. The campaign disclosed payments to each of the three cards during the time period examined in the audit.
In an email exchange with the board of elections auditor, Moore's campaign treasurer said Moore used an American Express card in his name solely for campaign purposes. Campaign finance records show Moore's campaign pays the annual membership fee on that card.
It is unclear whether Moore uses the other two cards for both personal and campaign expenses.
In one email, board of elections field auditor Joe Patton advises Moore's campaign treasurer, Donna Mabry, that the Speaker stop using a credit card altogether.
"In the future, I would recommend using a campaign debit card for these expenses but either way all expenses have to be itemized," Patton wrote.
At the same time the board of elections was auditing Moore's campaign expenses, On Your Side Investigates also began asking questions about the Speaker's un-itemized credit card charges.
Initially, in response to our questions, a staffer on Moore's campaign said that his treasurer had begun itemizing credit card expenditures on the 2015 mid-year report as a result of an audit but said the board of elections had not required the itemization of previous years' credit card purchases.
Two weeks later, that same staffer emailed to say Moore's campaign finance reports had been amended to included itemized credit card purchases dating back to the fourth quarter of 2010.
Moore sponsored law requiring itemization of credit card charges
The requirement to itemize credit card charges was one of many changes included in legislation to reform campaign finance law that passed the legislature in 2006.
Legislative records list Moore among the sponsors of the bill. Records also show Moore voted multiple times to pass the bill.
Despite that, Moore's campaign had never itemized its credit card charges prior to the 2015 audit, according to campaign finance reports filed with the board of elections.
The changes in the law requiring credit card charges to be itemized took effect January 1, 2007.
Moore's semi-annual mid-year campaign finance report covering January 1 through June 30, 2007 lists $2,014.83 in un-itemized credit card payments.
A spokeswoman for Moore did not respond to questions about whether or not the Speaker's campaign would amend its reports from 2007 through the third quarter 2010 to detail credit card charges.
But a statement issued by Mabry, Moore's campaign treasurer, said she was solely responsible for the credit card charges not being itemized on the campaign finance reports.
"I prepare, sign, and submit all necessary forms to the Board of Elections. Every month that I have served as Treasurer of his campaign committee, Rep. Moore has provided me with an itemization of campaign related expenses on his personal credit card, and I have maintained those itemizations in a separate file," Mabry's statement said. "To my best understanding, I believed categorizing his charges was in compliance with campaign finance law."
"As Treasurer, my name and signature was on the reports filed. I was never contacted by anyone at WBTV to ask me about this – if I had been, I would have happily spoken with them. As Treasurer, I am the one who keeps track of these things."
A spokeswoman for Moore, who sent the statement on behalf of Mabry, did not respond to a request for clarification after it was pointed out that On Your Side Investigates did, in fact, request information from Mabry.
In a letter dated September 23, 2015, On Your Side Investigates requested Mabry provide itemized American Express statements from January 1, 2013 through August 31, 2015.
The letter was sent via FedEx to the address listed on Moore's campaign finance reports. Moore was copied on the letter. A tracking receipt provided by FedEx shows the letter was delivered to the campaign's address on September 24, 2015.
Mabry did not respond to the letter but another staffer who handles fundraising for Moore and other members of the House Republican Caucus, Madison Shook, emailed On Your Side Investigates.
Other candidates investigated for similar violations
The issue of un-itemized credit card charges has caught the attention of some state lawmakers after the state board of elections voted unanimously in June to recommend State Senator Fletcher Hartsell (R-Cabarrus) be investigated by state and federal prosecutors for possible violations of state campaign finance law.
Investigators at the state board of elections began their investigation after a news story highlighted un-itemized credit card payments disclosed on Hartsell's campaign finance reports.
The state board of elections' investigation evolved to include examining two decades of expenditures made by Hartsell using campaign funds. In addition to the un-itemized credit card expenditures, a summary presentation prepared by state board investigators show Hartsell failed to properly disclose the nature and purpose of certain expenditures and used a complicated—and questionable—accounting system to determine he was due tens-of-thousands
of dollars in reimbursements from his campaign.
Since the state board of elections began investigating Hartsell, the senator's campaign has attached itemized credit card statements to its campaign finance reports.
Attorneys for Hartsell have denied he knowingly violated state law. There have not been any criminal investigations announced into Hartsell or his campaign, despite the recommendation of the state board this summer.
Moore denies violations of the law
On Your Side Investigates made multiple requests to interview Moore about his campaign's failure to detail his credit card expenditures.
Mollie Young, Moore's communications director, refused to make the Speaker available for an interview.
"From what I understand, the Speaker's campaign has been very transparent with campaign finance reports and fulfilling your request," Young wrote in response to an interview request on October 15. "We don't feel that there is anything that stands out or warrants a follow-up."
Young still refused to make Moore available after a reporter clarified that we would ask our questions whether or not he agreed to an interview.
"I will let the Speaker know about your concerns, but please feel free to catch him on your own time," Young wrote.
WEB EXTRA: How we decide to do an unscheduled interview
We caught up with Moore on his way into a Cleveland County Board of Commissioners meeting several days later.
At first, Moore claimed to not be aware of the discrepancies found on his campaign's finance reports.
"We have always filed everything with the reports as they are due, so I don't know what you're talking about," Moore said.
But as the conversation continued, Moore said a reporter was wrong for saying his campaign had reported years of un-itemized credit card expenses and asking how his failure to itemize credit card expenditures was any different from the un-itemized credit card expenditures that prompted the board of elections' investigation into Fletcher Hartsell.
"I disagree with your assessment entirely," Moore said. "Everything on my campaign finance reports are documented fully. That's a very unfair question and statement you just made."
When a reporter pointed out to Moore that his campaign had recently amended five years of finance reports, he disputed that.
"You are wrong. I mean, my campaign records have been filed the same way over the years. I just had an audit from the state board of elections—a random audit they do every year—that said everything we've done has been fine."
Moore ended the conversation without acknowledging the amended finance reports his campaign had recently filed as a result of the state board of elections' audit.
The day before this story was set to be published, Young, Moore's communications director, emailed a statement defending his claims that he had always itemized his credit card charges on his campaign finance report.
Young asked that her statement be attributed to her as a spokeswoman for Moore and not in her official capacity as communications director for Moore in his legislative office. Despite Young's request and assertion that she was not acting in her official capacity as Speaker Moore's Communications Director, the statement was sent using Young's officials legislative email address.
"The Speaker was accurate and truthful in his statement that he has always provided detailed reports of any and all campaign expenses. Since taking office in 2002, Speaker Moore has always given his treasurer all campaign receipts: from restaurant charges to gas station stops. His treasurer, an accountant, categorized these charges in what she understood was in compliance with campaign finance laws," Young wrote.
"This year, when the NC Board of Elections requested a more detailed report, the Speaker's campaign team responded and amended the necessary reports. The NC Board of Elections reviewed these new reports and deemed them in-order and that there was no further issue."
Itemized statements reveal lavish meals
The detailed credit card charges filed with the amended versions of Moore's campaign finance reports show the Speaker spent more than $7,000 at steakhouses between the fourth quarter of 2010 and the first half of 2015.
That figure does not include charges at other types of restaurants.
Moore's itemized credit card charges include meal expenses year-round, both in and out of session.
DOCUMENT: Click here to see the spreadsheet
For instance, Moore racked up nearly $500 in receipts during the first week of November 2014. On November 4 he charged $216.18 at Sullivan's steakhouse in Raleigh. Two nights later, on November 6, he charged $246.19 at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Cary.
A week later, on November 12, the Speaker charged $936.33 at Vinnie's Steak House in Raleigh.
Moore's detailed credit card statements and campaign finance reports include more than a half-dozen dinners at Vinnie's steakhouse.
One dinner, listed as just 'meals' on the campaign finance report, charged on February 23, 2015 cost $1,429.84. It is not clear who Moore was eating with or why the meal cost so much.
When asked about the expenses, though, Moore defended the charges that, until recently, had gone un-reported.
"We've always been very responsible in the way campaign money is spent," Moore said.
"If there were meals, that's where I'm taking out a large group of folks who may come up and visit or other legislators," Moore explained.
State law does not put any restrictions how campaign money is spent, so long as the expense is related to the campaign or to the candidate's role in office.
Other Charlotte-area lawmakers failed to itemize credit card charges
Moore is one of three Charlotte-area legislators who listed un-itemized credit card charges on their campaign finance reports.
Tarte, who is in his second term, said he got a personal credit card that he uses only for campaign purposes after he was elected.
Initially, Tarte said, he was not aware of the legal requirements to itemize the charges he incurred on the credit card.
"A simple oversight on the first set of reports that we did through the first set of elections," Tarte explained. "We've never gotten any comment back that we were doing anything inappropriate."
Tarte's campaign began itemizing credit card charges on its mid-year 2015 report. He provided itemized credit card statements to On Your Side Investigates for 2014.
"We take this very seriously that you need to have good records; you need to be also open. Everybody should be able to look at them," Tarte said.
Most of the charges detailed in Tarte's 2014 statements were for meals or fuel but one set of charges stood out.
Tarte uses his campaign funds to pay for a membership with ClubCorp, the company that owns the Charlotte City Club and the Capital Club and Cardinal Club in Raleigh.
In an interview with On Your Side Investigates, Tarte defended the use of campaign funds to pay for the club membership, saying legislators are offered a discounted membership.
"When I joined the Senate, I got a membership because it is useful for business meeting," Tarte explained. "In terms of for a campaign perspective, I do fundraisers. I'm able to use multiple sites. I don't have an office anywhere outside of the Raleigh office."
Tarte said he does not use his club membership for personal business.
"If I leave the Senate or am not elected again, I'll give up the membership," Tarte said.
Third senator refuses to detail credit card spending
Senator Warren Daniel refused to provide any information about his credit card charges, telling On Your Side Investigates that his campaign's finance reports speak for themselves.
"The credit card payments you identified are consolidated campaign expenses typically paid on a monthly basis," Daniel explained in a statement in mid-October. "These expenses are for fuel and meals related to travel across the district to events related to my campaign, or to my official duties – as noted in the reports."
"The campaign's records are in compliance with state reporting requirements," Daniel asserted in the email.
But after a reporter pointed out a law requiring credit card charges to be itemized, Daniel said the law was unclear.
"As a follow up to your inquiry, the input I have received indicates that there is a lack of clarity in the law, and disagreement in its interpretation, regarding how routine campaign expenditures like meals and fuel should be documented. Therefore, I am going to ask the State Board of Elections to take a look at my reports and determine if further documentation is noted," Daniel said. "If the Board requests further information about the campaign's expenditures, I will direct my treasurer to amend the reports according to their guidance."
At press time, no correspondence from Daniel or his campaign had been noted in the list of documents the board of elections had on file from his campaign. It remains unclear whether Daniel has asked the board of elections to review his records.
Daniel did not provide itemized credit card statements despite multiple requests for the information.