Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is under fire from progressives and ethics watchdogs after reporting from Politico Tuesday revealed she helped deliver a $67 million federal contract to her husband Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's home state of Kentucky.
Kyle Herrig, president of the anti-corruption group Accountable.US, said the contract—the largest of its kind delivered to Kentucky during the three years President Donald Trump has been in office—is just the latest example of Chao's behavior that warrants a serious look.
"The unending stream of stories that detail the depth of Secretary Elaine Chao’s improper use of taxpayer dollars to boost her husband Mitch McConnell’s political career is alarming," Herrig said in a statement. "This type of political corruption is a threat to our democracy and destroys Americans' faith in government."
"Chao's corruption has gone unchecked for too long," Herrig added. "It's time for House Oversight to expand its investigation to encompass her department's unethical favoritism towards Kentucky in order to help her husband's political career. Enough is enough."
Transportation @SecElaineChao abused her power to help secure more than $67 million for Kentucky, the state where her husband Mitch McConnell is running for reelection in 2020. https://t.co/IH1N1SvphR— Restore Public Trust (@RestoreTrustOrg) December 17, 2019
As The American Independent reports, Chao's alleged favoritism toward her husband is under review by the Government Accountability Office.
Tuesday's controversy revolves around a contract given to Kentucky's northern Boone County by Chao's office.
According to Politico, the county was among 42 applicants given extra time to fill in deficiencies in its submission, time not given to 55 other incomplete applications:
Moreover, emails obtained by Politico show that Boone County officials were in contact with Chao's aide Todd Inman, a former McConnell campaign staffer known to offer extra guidance to Kentuckians with business before the secretary.
"It really invites skepticism, and it raises questions about the integrity of the process and ultimately the decisions that are made," Susan Fleming, director of GAO's physical infrastructure team, told Politico. "Are these decisions driven by merit? Or are they driven by other factors?"
To a number of observers, the answer to Fleming's question appeared clear: the latter. Progressives noted polling showing a tough re-election fight for McConnell and wondered if Chao is funnelling federal projects to Kentucky to help her husband.
"Normally, what you see is people who don't really like Mitch McConnell very much and are skeptical of him have chosen to pull the lever for him anyway," Kentucky Democrats deputy executive director Marisa McNee told Politico of the senator's unpopularity. "I think what we're seeing in northern Kentucky is a willingness to walk away from that Republican label that we haven't seen in a long time."