Drug Money Funds Kentucky Voter Fraud

By Chrisanne Grise 07/25/12

A massive vote-buying scandal fueled by drug money is shaking up the state's elections.

Votes often go for 50$ a pop. Photo via

This is not your average case of voter fraud. In a drug-ridden political scandal straight from America's heartland, major cocaine and marijuana dealers have admitted to buying votes in order to steal elections and guarantee protection from politicians. The state is now cracking down on the fraud in a series of court cases, and so far, more than 20 public elected officials and others have been convicted or plead guilty in the last two years in the Eastern District of Kentucky alone. Kerry B. Harvey, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, describes the scheme as “very extensive, organized criminal activity, involving hundreds of thousands of dollars and in many cases that involves drug money.” The area faces enormous financial difficulties, which has helped the practice of vote-buying to thrive. “These folks go out and hijack the local elections for their own purposes and then they use those jobs to enrich themselves and their confederates,” Harvey says. Prosecutors say that more than $400,000—much of it drug proceeds—was pooled by both Democratic and Republican politicians over several elections, and used to buy the votes of more than 8,000 voters. “When it comes to vote buying, it’s an everyday thing,” says Michael Salyers, a former magistrate candidate who is now serving jail time for buying votes in 2010. “It’s pretty much like jaywalking."

Major drug dealers allegedly give candidates money to buy votes, or line up bribed voters themselves, in exchange for protection once the candidate was elected. "I've also bought, traded, bought votes for different candidates," testified Eugene Lewis—a Democratic Board of Elections Judge who is also a convicted cocaine trafficker and marijuana dealer. "I would pay them right in the booth…You would not believe the percentage of people, from school teachers down, that I have bought their vote from. It's unbelievable." J.C. Lawson, another convicted marijuana and cocaine dealer, also testified that he helped win elections by giving candidates "voters and people and money," and he even gave the sheriff about $20,000 for his race. Lawson admits the money came from drug dealing. In order to fight the conspiracy, an election integrity task force and special hotline have been set up to prevent voter fraud, and investigators have been placed across the state. “If you sell your vote, you are selling the heart of democracy,” says Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway. “If the government belongs to someone who is out there buying votes, rather than the free will of the people, then it doesn’t belong to everybody. It is very central to our democracy, so I think this work is very important.”

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Chrisanne Grise is a multimedia journalist specializing in health/fitness, lifestyle, travel, bridal, and music. Her work has appeared in print and online for publications such as Martha Stewart Weddings, Parents, FitnessMagazine, Fisher Price, Bridal Guide, Scholastic's Choices, AbsolutePunk.net, Chorus.fm, and more. She is the Senior Editor at The New York Times Upfront. Follow her on Linkedin and Twitter.