WKYT Investigates | Pie Suppers: Political gain or a slice of life?

Published: May. 17, 2018 at 5:04 PM EDT
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Pie suppers are a southern Kentucky tradition. They pop up every four years at charities and organizations all over Whitley County. And lately, some are questioning if the pies are ethical or crossing the line into vote-buying.

"Here, it's not unusual. It's just been that way," a Whitley County resident who did not want to be identified told WKYT. He chose to remain anonymous because he ran for county office in the past. "I know that if I actually wanted to run again, which I don't, I will tell you myself that I couldn't run because I can't afford the pie suppers," he admitted.

A century ago, pie suppers were known all over the country as a time to gather with the community. Women would bring homemade pies and men that were interested in a particular woman would bid on the pie for a chance to spend time with her. But pie suppers are history in most communities. And in others, they've changed a lot from their original purpose.

"I've never seen anybody but a candidate bid," the Whitley County resident said. He said candidates show up at the pie suppers where dozens of pie are auctioned. He said candidates are expected to bid high dollar amounts on the pies.

"I've seen candidates spend over $1,000 at one pie supper," he said. "Candidates carry out boxes of pies."

But what's in it for the candidate? The man says it can go a long way toward getting elected.

"It's exposure, and when you spend a lot of money, I mean people do get out and talk about it."

He said after his first pie supper as a local candidate, he knew he didn't have a chance to win because he wasn't willing to buy all the pies.

"An election shouldn't be based on how much pie you can buy. That's as simple as I can put it. I don't know how else to put it. Just because you buy the most pies, it doesn't mean you are the best candidate."

But is this considered vote-buying? The man says it is up to how you view the practice.

"I guess it's a matter of opinion. To me, my conscience made me feel like it was. It is a question that probably needs to be addressed and looked at."

The problem with addressing the pie suppers, is most people outside southern Kentucky don't know about it. WKYT asked University of Kentucky Professor of Law Josh Douglas about the events. He hadn't heard of them before this report, but he offered some insight into the practice.

"It sounded like a cultural campaign-type activity. It didn't raise any alarms of legality when you first mentioned them to me."

He said he wouldn't call pie suppers vote-buying.

"The candidate's not giving money to the voters in exchange for their votes. They're giving money as part of this auction for charity, and the voters are seeing that and deciding what they think based on that," Douglas said.

There is a fine line that may cross into legal trouble, though.

"While they are campaigning and then paying for the pies out of their campaign funds then yes, they definitely need to disclose that expenditure, and then those voters would know and some might reject a candidate that spends lots of money on this type of campaigning, and others may think it's important," Douglas said.

The professor said the only way to stop something like this is to ban it by law.

"Unless you change the laws to regulate this kind of activity, then the answer would be to find a viable candidate who says, 'No, I'm going to put a stop to this as sort of what is expected of candidates.'"

The state attorney general's office had no knowledge of pie suppers.