Secretary Elaine Chao defended funds funneled to Kentucky during her tenure; denied giving state special treatment
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Earlier today at a House Committee on Appropriations hearing, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao repeatedly denied using her position to favor Kentucky, where her husband Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is running for re-election.
Since taking the helm at the Department of Transportation (DOT) in early 2017, Chao has systematically funneled taxpayer dollars to Kentucky and met with its local leaders four times as frequently as officials from other states.
“Elaine Chao is the secretary of transportation, not the chair of Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign,” said Lizzy Price, director of Restore Public Trust. “Chao has used taxpayer dollars as her personal piggybank, funneling money to Kentucky, where her husband Mitch McConnell is running for re-election this year. Chao is supposed to serve all Americans, not just those who live in politically expedient states.”
At the hearing, Chao vehemently denied that she had assigned a DOT liaison to handle Kentucky projects, claiming “the newspapers made that up.” She also pushed back on claims that she exhibited bias in awarding grants to Kentucky, which got $67.4 million in INFRA grant funding in 2018 as other states got nothing.
Secretary Chao’s pattern of bias toward Kentucky is under investigation by the Department of Transportation’s inspector general.
Chao To A Kentucky Crowd: “I Try Not To Come Empty Handed.” TRANSCRIPT: CHAO: “I am so pleased to report to you that Lextrans will be receiving $2.3 million through the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration program of low or no emission grants. This $2.3 million will be used to purchase electric cars and electric buses and charging stations which was serviced the city of Lexington and also Fayette County. [APPLAUSE] I try not to come empty handed.” [Commerce Lexington Inc. Policy Luncheon – Elaine Chao Remarks, 8/24/18]
Chao Designated A Special Kentucky Liaison That Helped Shepard At Least $78 Million In Grant Money To The State. “Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao designated one of her staffers to direct $78 million in federal grants specifically to transportation projects in her husband Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, Politico reported Monday.” [Business Insider, 6/10/19]
Other States Were Not Given A DOT Liaison. “Chao’s designation of Inman as a special intermediary for Kentucky — a privilege other states did not enjoy — gave a special advantage to projects favored by her husband, which could in turn benefit his political interests. In such situations, ethicists say, each member of a couple benefits personally from the success of the other.” [Politico, 6/10/19]
Chao Met With Kentucky Officials, Some Of Whom Sought Grants, Four Times More Than Officials From Other States. “Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao met with officials from Kentucky, which her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), represents, much more than officials from any other state, according to a Politico report published Monday. The news outlet reports a review of Chao’s public calendar records found that 25 percent of the secretary’s meetings with local officials from any state between January 2017 to March 2018 were with Kentuckians. Some of the officials had applied for grants through her department, it added.” [The Hill, 10/7/19]
DOT Reportedly Gave Special Assistance To A Kentucky INFRA Grant Application Worth $67.4 Million, The State’s Largest Award. “Kentucky’s largest transportation grant application under the Trump administration benefited from a process that the government’s top watchdog said lacked “the assurance of fairness,” raising questions about whether the Department of Transportation is making decisions based on project merits or political considerations. The $67.4 million grant application for Boone County — a rapidly growing suburban district of political importance to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the husband of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao — was initially flagged by professional staff as incomplete. But after giving the state and local officials behind the application an extra opportunity to submit missing information, Chao chose it as one of 26 grant winners out of an initial pool of 258 applicants.” [Politico, 12/17/19]
Politico’s Morning Transportation: McConnell Sees His Wife’s Position As The Head Of DOT, And Her Favoritism Toward Kentucky, As Beneficial To His Standing With His Home State And Therefore His Reelection Chances.” Politico’s Morning Transportation: “To state it clearly: McConnell sees his wife’s position as the head of DOT, and her favoritism toward Kentucky, as beneficial to his standing with his home state and therefore his reelection chances.” [Politico – Morning Transportation, 10/9/19]
Politico HEADLINE: “McConnell Campaigns On Chao’s Kentucky Favoritism” [Politico – Morning Transportation, 10/9/19]