Postmaster General Louis DeJoy donated big to GOP, Trump — his wife got ambassador post

DeJoy's donations appear to create conflicts of interest for senators who must confirm Aldona Wos for Canada post

Published August 18, 2020 5:00PM (EDT)

Louis DeJoy and wife, Aldona Wos (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Louis DeJoy and wife, Aldona Wos (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a top donor to President Trump's election campaign and the former head fundraiser for the Republican National Convention, made a series of major donations to the Trump campaign and Senate Republicans leading up to his wife's nomination as U.S. ambassador to Canada, federal election records show.

In the weeks surrounding his wife's nomination, DeJoy gave the Trump Victory PAC $360,600. He also gave a $35,000 maximum donation to the Senate GOP election committee, which is chaired by one of the senators now tasked with confirming his wife, Aldona Wos, for the Ottawa post. That donation came the day after Trump announced his intention to nominate her.

Two other senators on the Foreign Relations Committee have also taken money from DeJoy or Wos, and now must weigh her qualifications for the ambassadorship, raising questions about potential conflicts of interest.  

In recent weeks, pressure has mounted on DeJoy, who caught fierce backlash from Democrats and U.S. Postal Service employees alike last week after reports that the USPS had warned 46 states that mail ballots might not be delivered on time for Election Day, potentially disenfranchising millions of voters.

Numerous recent reports have detailed how policy changes handed down under DeJoy have cut overtime and slowed down mail delivery across the country. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a letter to DeJoy last week that he had "confirmed that contrary to prior denials and statements minimizing these changes, the Postal Service recently instituted operational changes" shortly after he assumed office.

Those changes, they said, "now threaten the timely delivery of mail — including medicines for seniors, paychecks for workers, and absentee ballots for voters — that is essential to millions of Americans."

DeJoy's ascension to postmaster general dovetails with his wife's trajectory to the ambassadorial post in Canada, and both now find themselves under scrutiny.

Ambassadorships are frequently awarded to top political campaign donors, and that practice is certainly not limited to the Trump administration — though it offers plenty of examples. Former EU ambassador Gordon Sondland, for instance, who became a key figure in the Ukraine impeachment scandal, was accused of having "bought" his position after he gave $1 million to Trump's inaugural committee.

Wos, in fact, may stand out among Trump appointees as one of the more qualified for her position: In 2004, she was named ambassador to Estonia under President George W. Bush.

However, the same pay-for-play questions arose at the time because of DeJoy's major financial support for Bush ahead of the 2004 election. Wos served in the position for 18 months, less than half of one presidential term, stepping down in December 2006.

But experts and Democratic officials suggest that he timing in this case suggests something beyond the cynical D.C. norm of a campaign megadonor reaping a reward. DeJoy not only gave big to Trump's campaign and inauguration, he continued giving to Trump and other influential Republicans after the president took office — indeed, regularly throughout his term — and his donations have escalated at key points along the ambassadorship's timeline.

"Although it is not a surprise that a person nominated to serve as an ambassador is a large campaign donor, these donations are remarkably close in time with the nomination process," said Kedric Payne, general counsel and senior director of ethics at the Campaign Legal Center. "Generally, you would expect an attempt to at least avoid the appearance of a quid pro quo with suspiciously timed contributions. This may strain the public's trust, to assume that the contributions during the nomination process are coincidences."

Senate officials familiar with the matter acknowledged to Salon that the timing is suspect, even considering the "norm" of ambassadorships as political gifts. In an email to Salon, House Oversight Committee chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., expressed skepticism about the entire affair.

 "The Postal Service — and the Postmaster General — should be nonpartisan, independent, and free from undue influence from the White House. However, this Postmaster General is just the opposite," Maloney said.

"He was chosen for his position after he donated millions of dollars to Donald Trump's campaign and served as the Republican National Convention finance co-chair. The President then nominated Mr. DeJoy's wife for a plum ambassador position, and they both continue to have significant stakes in the assets of competitors of the Postal Service," she continued. "The American people do not want the Postal Service politicized in this way — they just want their mail, medicines, and mail-in ballots delivered in a timely way."

The continuous flow of donations is unique to the Trump administration and in many ways a consequence of the president's endless campaign. Unlike his predecessors, Trump essentially left the store open: He opened his 2020 campaign for donations unusually early, filing with the FEC on Jan. 20, 2017 — the day of his inauguration. Together with the Republican Party, Trump's team established in 2018 what Politico described as an "unprecedented reelection machine" with Trump Victory, the campaign's joint fundraising committee with the party that allows for unlimited donations — an unusually early date in the election cycle for such a joint committee.

Throughout Trump's term, DeJoy has given heavily to Trump Victory, as well as to Republican committees, on a timeline that aligns in key moments with Wos' ambassadorial nomination.

The day after the White House announced that Trump would nominate Wos as ambassador to Canada, DeJoy made a maximum $35,000 donation to the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), filings show. The NRSC is the only official committee dedicated to electing Republican senators.

Furthermore, the Senate oversees the confirmation of U.S. ambassadors. The current chair of the NRSC, Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — which is currently holding confirmation proceedings for Wos.

DeJoy has made several maximum donations to the NRSC over the years, including when Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., was NSRC chair, according to federal filings. Gardner also sits on the Foreign Relations Committee.

In June 2017, Trump named Kelly Craft — who along with her husband had donated more than $2 million to the Trump campaign — as U.S. ambassador to Canada. Only days before that announcement, DeJoy and Wos both made donations to Trump Victory, giving $100,000 and $2,700, respectively, on June 6. (Wos' first contribution to the committee of $2,700 was at the time the individual donation limit to a candidate.) At that time, DeJoy had not contributed to Trump Victory since making a $4,000 donation in October 2016.

Craft served until 2019, when on Feb. 22, Trump announced his intention to nominate her to replace UN ambassador Nikki Haley as she departed the administration. He formally sent Craft's nomination to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 2 of that year, and the committee heard her nomination on June 19.

During that same timeframe, FEC records show, DeJoy significantly ramped up his giving to Trump Victory.

He and Wos each donated $35,000 to Trump Victory on Jan. 22, 2019, according to FEC records. Following the Feb. 22 announcement that the Canadian ambassadorship would be opening up, DeJoy poured in hundreds of thousands, records show: He gave a total of $320,000 to Trump Victory in the three months between April 3 and June 17, 2019, when he made his largest donation to the fund to date — $120,000. A few days later, Trump was reported to be considering Wos for the position.

Craft moved into the UN post in August, and her role in Canada was temporarily filled by career diplomat Richard Mills.

Trump later moved Mills to the UN on Jan. 6, 2020, where he now works under Craft. Federal filings show that a month before that move, DeJoy gave $35,000 to the NRSC — the maximum annual limit to that committee. DeJoy then donated another $150,000 to Trump Victory on Jan. 15 in two separate chunks, at the time his largest single-day contribution.

Then, on Feb. 11, the White House announced that Trump would nominate Wos as the next U.S. ambassador to Canada. The next day, FEC flings show, DeJoy made another annual maximum donation of $35,000 to the NRSC.

Then, on Feb. 19, 2020, the week after the White House announcement and DeJoy's NSRC donation, he made his biggest single donation to Trump Victory to date: $210,600. Six days later, on Feb. 25, Trump officially nominated Wos.

Further, FEC records show that two other Republican senators who sit on the Foreign Relations Committee received donations from DeJoy and Wos. The couple gave a combined $10,000 — at the time maxing out — to then-presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign, and DeJoy contributed $5,000 to Sen. Lindsey Graham's 2014 campaign.

A Graham spokesperson did not reply to Salon's request for comment. Romney's office did not immediately reply, nor did press officers for the NRSC. A USPS spokesperson was unable to provide comment on the donations.

The timeline also aligns with DeJoy's own ascent to postmaster general.

On Jan. 6, 2020, the same day that Wos' predecessor Mills was moved to the UN, then-Postmaster General Megan Brennan agreed to postpone her planned retirement until the USPS could find a successor. This was seen as a signal that the USPS Board of Governors was considering nominating an outsider.

Later that month, DeJoy gave $150,000 to Trump Victory, followed by $210,600 the next month.

In a rare break with the president, Graham has defended the USPS in the face of Trump's attacks to block funding: "The idea of cutting the Postal Service's budget is not the right approach," he said in a Washington Post article from last weekend, adding that he believes the president is "trying to stop what he sees as an effort to have mass mail-in voting."

Romney has also spoken out.

"My biggest concern, frankly, with regards to voting fraud has been that there would be some kind of hacking of our voting electronic systems, and that voting machines or tabulating equipment would be hacked," Romney said in a Friday interview with the Sutherland Institute.

"When politicians attack a judicial system, attack a voting system . . . attack a free press, these things threaten the foundation upon which not only our own democracy rests but democracies around the world rest," he added.

If the donations are enough to push Romney, Graham and Young to recuse themselves from Wos' confirmation hearings, it could throw her confirmation into doubt.

All executive branch nominees are required to disclose financial records to the Senate ahead of their confirmation hearings, and committees usually do due diligence on campaign donations. An official with the Foreign Relations Committee could not immediately confirm to Salon whether Wos voluntarily disclosed the donor history outlined above.

DeJoy himself is scheduled to testify before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee Friday. The House of Representatives has called DeJoy to testify next Monday about what many Democrats and other observers see as a troubling pattern to suppress votes in November's general election. House Democrats threatened DeJoy with arrest if he does not appear, and he has said he will comply.

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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