Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao with her husband Senator Mitch McConnell, at the White House in January 2017.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao with her husband Senator Mitch McConnell, at the White House in January 2017. (Photo: Cheriss May/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

Ethics Watchdogs Sound Alarm After Transportation Secretary Chao Delivers Major Federal Contract to Husband Mitch McConnell's Kentucky

"Chao's corruption has gone unchecked for too long."

Eoin Higgins

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."

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."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

UN Officials Warn of 'Record-Shattering Month' for Civilian Deaths in Yemen

Following deadly strikes by the Saudi-led coalition, Oxfam is calling on the U.N. Security Council to condemn attacks on Yemenis and to "inject new urgency" into peace talks.

Jessica Corbett ·


Experts Say Nuclear Energy as Climate Solution Is Total 'Fiction'

"The reality is nuclear is neither clean, safe, or smart; but a very complex technology with the potential to cause significant harm."

Jessica Corbett ·


Air and Water Under Threat as SCOTUS Targets Environmental Laws

"It seems like we have a new conservative supermajority on the court that is much more inclined to do a slash-and-burn expedition through our major environmental laws."

Julia Conley ·


'Historic Turning Point': Cuba Issues Plan for Vaccine Internationalism

"This lifesaving package," said the head of Progressive International's delegation to Cuba, exemplifies public health and science being "placed above private profit and petty nationalism."

Kenny Stancil ·


Fridays For Future Announces Global Climate Strike for March 25

"Join us for the Global Climate Strike as we demand policymakers and world leaders to prioritize #PeopleNotProfit!"

Common Dreams staff ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo