- Nov 2005
Grants for projects favored by McConnell raise ethical questions for Elaine Chao: reportSecretary Elaine Chao's Department of Transportation (DOT) designated a special liaison for grant applications in Kentucky, the home state of her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), Politico reported Monday, facilitating awards totaling at least $78 million for projects favored by the GOP lawmaker.
The liaison, Todd Inman, reportedly stated in an email to McConnell's office that Chao had personally asked him to serve as an intermediary who could assist the senator and local Kentucky officials on grants with special significance to McConnell.
Those grants included a highway-improvement project in a McConnell political stronghold that had been rejected twice previously, according to Politico.
Beginning in April 2017, Inman and Chao reportedly met annually with local officials from Owensboro, Ky., and discussed two projects of special importance: a plan to upgrade road connections to a commercial river port and a proposal to expedite reclassifying a local parkway as an interstate spur.
Inman, who now serves as Chao's chief of staff, emailed the river port authority on how to improve Owensboro's application after that 2017 meeting, the news outlet noted.
He also reportedly spoke over the phone with Al Mattingly, the chief executive of Daviess County, which includes Owensboro, who suggested to Politico that Inman was crucial in the approval process.
“Todd probably smoothed the way, I mean, you know, used his influence,” Mattingly told the outlet in an interview. “Everybody says that projects stand on their own merit, right? So if I’ve got 10 projects, and they’re all equal, where do you go to break the tie?”
“Well, let’s put it this way: I only have her ear an hour when I go to visit her once a year,” he added of Chao and Inman, who reportedly had worked as McConnell’s advance man. “With a local guy, he has her ear 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You tell me.”
The circumstances surrounding the Owensboro grant, as well as another to Boone County, Ky., and Inman's designation as a special intermediary, which other states don't have, highlight ethical concerns with having a powerful Cabinet secretary married to the Senate’s majority leader, according to Politico.
At the very least, shows how incestuous politicians can be in their dealings.