Buford responds to charges he helped Chandler, Keller

May 16, 2004|HERB BROCK

On the surface, the Republican primary for the 6th Congressional District seat has involved an expected, albeit mild, debate among the three candidates over various issues they would deal with in the U.S. House. But just below the surface have been two controversies swirling around one of the candidates.

One of the controversies involves whether state Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, contributed money to the congressional campaign of U.S. 6th District Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, in Chandler's campaign against Republican Alice Forgy Kerr earlier this year.

The other controversy involves whether Buford may have helped gut a Senate bill supposedly unfriendly to now-convicted Kelco chief Stephen Keller in exchange for a fund-raiser Keller hosted for Buford.

Regarding the Chandler campaign contribution flap, Buford delivered an envelope containing a $2,000 check to Chandler at a Nicholasville Rotary Club meeting in late January. The check came from a New Mexico resident who sits on the R.J. Corman Railroad Group of Nicholasville. Corman, who is a friend of Buford, asked Buford to give the check to Chandler.


The story about Buford's delivery of money to Chandler has been circulated by the Chandler campaign. Buford admits he made the delivery of the $2,000 check for Chandler but insists he didn't know it was a campaign contribution to Chandler and denies he supported Chandler over Republican Kerr.

"Chandler has accused me of raising money for his campaign and that is totally false," said Buford. "Mr. Corman is a friend of mine, and one day when I was visiting him at his home, he was ill and asked me if I would take an envelope with money in it to Chandler, who was going to speak at a Rotary meeting. Since I'm a member and was going to the meeting any way, I said OK.

"I knew the envelope did not contain a love letter and figured it was a contribution to Chandler's campaign," he said. "But to suggest that I was giving Chandler money and I supported him is absurb. I gave $1,000 to the Kerr campaign and wholeheartedly supported her. She's a fine lady and would have made a wonderful congresswoman."

Corman has sided with Buford, saying the senator was merely a messenger and not the contributor, but Kerr's brother isn't buying Buford's explanation. Larry Forgy has blasted Buford, accused him of trying to undermine his sister's campaign and has been campaigning against Buford during the primary battle and for one of Buford's opponents, Bryan Coffman.

Concerning the Kelco controversy, in June 2001 Kelco president Keller held a fund-raiser for Buford, who was running for re-election to the state Senate, at which $24,000 was raised for Buford. At the time of the fund-raiser, Keller was the target of a federal investigation that led to his conviction on fraud and money-laundering charges involving his insurance company.

Eight months after the fund-raiser, Buford, as chairman of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, advocated several changes that apparently softened a bill that would have increased regulations for insurance companies like Kelco, which bought life insurance policies from terminally ill patients at discounted rates and then sold the policies to investors.

Buford said Keller offered to hold the fund-raiser and "asked for nothing" in exchange.

"There was a wide range of people there supporting me, including Louie Nunn, Larry Forgy, Alice Kerry, and many others," said Buford. "Steve held a lot of fund-raisers, for candidates of both parties."

Coffman said that whether there was a "quid pro quo" with Buford handling legislation in a way that would be helpful to Keller in exchange for Keller's fund-raiser "is a question that Buford needs to answer. It's not going away.

"Keller was under investigation at the time of the fund-raiser. He's a crook, a convicted felon," said Coffman. "If nothing else, having dealings of any kind with Keller, either by having him host a fund-raiser or handling legislation in a way that would benefit Keller, creates an appearance if impropriety.

"And that appearance of impropriety would become Republican baggage in the fall campaign against Chandler if Buford is our candidate."

Coffman said he doesn't know all the details but the ones he does know make him "suspicious."

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