Election 2020

USPS Robert Duncan: High-level ties to Republican party

Robert Duncan, who has deep links with Mitch McConnell and major GOP groups, has declined to rein in the postmaster general amid concerns that postal changes could impede mail-in voting

The USPS board of governors chairman, Robert M Duncan, is partially the target of a request by the House oversight committee

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INVESTIGATIVE PRESS GROUP

Intense scrutiny of the United States Postal Service and its likely role in November’s election is calling new attention to the chairman of the organization’s board of governors, who has deep ties to influential Republicans including the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.

The postal service’s smooth running is seen as key to the success of mail-in voting in 2020, with tens of millions of voters expected to use postal votes instead of going to polling stations, out of health fears due to the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats have raised concerns that Republicans are seeking to disrupt the agency’s operations in ways that could hinder mail-in voting.

The USPS board of governors chairman, Robert M Duncan, is partially the target of a request by the House oversight committee. The committee, chaired by Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, is asking for documents related to how the postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, was selected for his position.

Through a spokesman for the USPS board of governors, Duncan declined a request by the Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer to provide more information on the appointment of DeJoy, a major Republican donor. The 11-member USPS board of governors oversees the policies and expenditures of the postal service. The board can also fire the postmaster general.

To at least one former member of the board of governors, having a sitting member, much less a chair like Duncan, with such extensive political ties that could be a conflict of interest is unprecedented.

“We never had that type of situation come up,” said the former Nevada congressman James Bilbray, who served on the board in different capacities for a decade. “I don’t think we would have hired anybody or picked anybody that had a conflict. The reason is it just would not be the right thing to do, at least on my part.”

But Alan Kessler, another former board chairman, said “it is not unusual” to have board members with political backgrounds or connections on the panel.

DeJoy has overseen and proposed major changes to the mail service. He has said that those changes are meant to streamline the organization. Aspects of the overhaul, though, have slowed down mail delivery and limited access for some Americans. Those changes, conspicuously, came a few months before the presidential election as Donald Trump has falsely warned that voting by mail is especially susceptible to voter fraud.

Trump has also expressed support for withholding funding to the postal service as a way to restrict voting by mail. For months, McConnell has been blocking a $25bn fundraising bill for the postal service.

Democrats argue that the mail changes are meant to help Trump and Republicans by hindering voting by mail across the country. Congressional Democrats have been holding hearings and investigating aspects of the USPS and ties of the service’s leadership to the Republican party.

Duncan has deep ties to major Republican political organizations and top Republican lawmakers. Duncan continues to serve in some of those leadership roles.

According to new filings with the Commonwealth of Virginia State Corporation Commission on Monday, Duncan retains a post as a director of the Senate Leadership Fund, the main Republican Super Pac focused on the Senate. Duncan is also listed as a director of American Crossroads, another major Republican Super Pac.

Duncan is also a former chairman of the Republican National Committee. He served in that role from 2007 to 2009, overlapping the end of George W Bush’s second term as president. He is still listed as a Republican national committeeman in Kentucky.

Robert M Duncan Jr, Duncan’s son, currently serves as the United States attorney for the eastern district of Kentucky. The younger Duncan was appointed to that position by Trump. His appointment was announced by McConnell.

McConnell and the Kentucky senator Rand Paul, together, recommended Duncan Jr to Trump for his district attorney job.

Duncan is a longtime donor to Republican politicians. In the last few months he has donated $11,200 to the Trump campaign. He has donated to Paul as well. In local Kentucky press Duncan is described as a “longtime fundraiser for and ally of” McConnell. McConnell himself called him a “good friend” and “valued partner”.

McConnell’s office declined to respond to questions.

But in August, the Louisville Courier Journal reported a statement from McConnell’s office saying the two have known each other for a long time. McConnell recommended Duncan to the president for a position on the board of governors. McConnell, in a public hearing for Duncan’s confirmation, called him “an outstanding choice to help oversee” the postal service.

Karl Rove, the longtime Republican strategist, told the Guardian that members of the board for the Super Pacs are in charge of helping “oversee the staff, set the policies, etc”. Phil Cox, a fellow director for SLF, described him as an “exceptional guy”.

In September 2018, Duncan posted a picture of him with Donald Trump Jr on Facebook.

Duncan’s longstanding ties to Republican political infrastructure have irked Democrats. The Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren has urged members of of the USPS board to publicize any potential financial conflicts of interest.

Warren wrote in a 24 August letter to the members that “your role in appointing a Postmaster General with significant financial conflicts of interest, and who has been engaged in an effort to undermine the mission of the agency – and your failure to address and counter this sabotage of the Postal Service raise questions about whether you are meeting those responsibilities.”

Warren has also suggested members such as Duncan should resign if they don’t fire DeJoy.

But there is no sign that the support DeJoy has among the board of governors has cracked.

In the past, said Bilbray, Duncan “would not have got appointed” to his post on the board of governors.

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