Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are one of Washington, D.C.’s ultimate power couples—and it looks an awful lot like she’s using her power to boost him back home in Kentucky. Under Chao, Kentucky, unlike other states, gets a special liaison to help local officials apply for grants.
Chao’s chief of staff, Todd Inman, is a Kentucky native who worked on McConnell’s 2008 and 2014 campaigns as well as Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. In 2017, then the director of operations in Chao’s office, Inman wrote to McConnell’s chief of staff that “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.”
And while the Transportation Department insisted to Politico that Kentucky is getting no special treatment, the parties involved aren’t going out of their way to avoid the impression of favoritism. Owensboro, Kentucky, a city to which McConnell has long funneled money, had a grant application rejected in the final months of the Obama administration. Another application was rejected in 2017. But the city was successful in 2018, and just a few months later, McConnell was in town as part of his 2020 re-election effort, bragging about the $11.5 million grant.
The county executive told Politico, “Well, let’s put it this way: I only have [Chao’s] ear an hour when I go to visit her once a year,” whereas Inman, “a local guy, he has her ear 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You tell me.” But does that apply more to Inman, Chao’s chief of staff, or McConnell, her husband? Or are we looking at a multiplier effect?