Elaine Chao strongly favored officials from her husband Mitch McConnell's home state in grant meetings
Secretary of U.S. Department of Transportation Elaine L. Chao. (Stuart Isett/Fortune)

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao gave preference to Kentuckians -- who are represented by her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell -- during meetings set up in her first 14 months on the job.

A quarter of all her scheduled meetings with state officials from January 2017 to March 2018 were set up with Kentuckians, who make up only 1.3 percent of the U.S. population, reported Politico.

The next closest, Indiana and Georgia, scored six percent of her meetings each, according to her calendars that have been made public.

At least five of Chao's 18 meetings with Kentucky officials were requested in emails from McConnell staffers who flagged the local officials as "friends" or "loyal supporters."

Those emails sometimes noted topics the officials wanted to discuss with Chao or ask for special favors, including consideration for federal grants.

Chao aide Todd Inman helped advise the Senate majority leader and local Kentucky officials on Transportation Department grants totaling $78 million for the mayor of Owensboro, a McConnell stronghold in western Kentucky.

Home-state bias is a common problem in federal grants, but Chao's marriage to the Senate majority leader adds a new layer of issues, according to ethics experts.

“The marriage is the thing that underlies all of this,” said Mel Dubnick, a professor of government ethics and accountability at the University of New Hampshire.

A spokesperson for the Department of Transportation said the report was based on outdated or incomplete calendars provided by partisan political groups, and complained that co-author Tanya Snyder focused on covering Chao's leadership instead of her work on infrastructure and safety.