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NEW Report: McConnell’s “Favored Projects” Got “Special Advantage” From Department of Transportation [POLITICO]

Ethics Expert: “Where a Cabinet secretary is doing things that are going to help her husband get reelected, that starts to rise to the level of feeling more like corruption to the average American.”

The latest in a series of reports highlighting Senator Mitch McConnell’s self-serving politics and ethical conflicts today shows how McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, “gave a special advantage” to Kentucky projects backed by McConnell’s political allies. This special treatment, “which could in turn benefit [McConnell’s] political interests,” creates a “clear conflict” that scholars say “starts to rise to the level of feeling more like corruption to the average American.”

“Senator Mitch McConnell has ‘essentially shut down’ the Senate, but he has no problem using his position to grease the wheels for his political allies,” said DSCC spokesperson Stewart Boss. “These stories confirm what we already knew — if McConnell ever had a shred of integrity, he has long since abandoned it to serve his personal interests.”

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

POLITICO: Chao created special path for McConnell’s favored projects

A top Transportation official helped coordinate grant applications by McConnell’s political allies.

By Tucker Doherty and Tanya Snyder

Key Points:

  • The Transportation Department under Secretary Elaine Chao designated a special liaison to help with grant applications and other priorities from her husband Mitch McConnell’s state of Kentucky, paving the way for grants totaling at least $78 million for favored projects as McConnell prepared to campaign for reelection.
  • Chao’s aide Todd Inman, who stated in an email to McConnell’s Senate office that Chao had personally asked him to serve as an intermediary, helped advise the senator and local Kentucky officials on grants with special significance for McConnell — including a highway-improvement project in a McConnell political stronghold that had been twice rejected for previous grant applications.
  • The circumstances surrounding the Owensboro grant and another, more lucrative grant to Boone County, highlight the ethical conflicts in having a powerful Cabinet secretary married to the Senate’s leader and in a position to help him politically.
  • 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.
  • “Where a Cabinet secretary is doing things that are going to help her husband get reelected, that starts to rise to the level of feeling more like corruption to the average American. … I do think there are people who will see that as sort of ‘swamp behavior,’” said John Hudak, a Brookings Institution scholar who has studied political influence in federal grant-making.
  • In fact, days after launching his 2020 reelection campaign McConnell asked Owensboro’s mayor to set up a luncheon with business and political leaders at which the senator claimed credit for delivering the grant.
  • “There’s a standard for government employees; they’re expected to be impartial,” said Canter. “When you have a spouse who’s the head of an agency and the other spouse is a leading member of Congress — and their office is referring matters to the department, and they’re flagging things from donors, from people with particular political affiliations, who are quote-unquote ‘friends’ — it raises the question of whether the office, instead of being used purely for official purposes, is being used for political purposes.
  • Back in Washington, Inman encouraged that perception. In a February 2017 email to McConnell’s chief of staff, he wrote, “The Secretary has indicated if you have a Ky-specific issue that we should flag for her attention to please continue to go through your normal channels but feel free to contact me directly as well so we can monitor or follow up as necessary.”
  • His first posting was as director of operations, from which he helped steer requests for grant assistance from McConnell’s office — at Chao’s direction, according to the emails.
  • “There’s nothing illegal about her steering those funds to her husband’s home state, and her home state, as long as things are aboveboard,” Hudak said. “The question though is, how do you deal with conflicts of interests? And this is a clear conflict…”

Read the full story here.

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