WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is investigating the postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, over possible violations of campaign finance laws while he was running a company and building a reputation as a top Republican donor, his spokesman said on Thursday.
The investigation focuses on campaign contributions made by people employed by New Breed Logistics, the company in North Carolina that Mr. DeJoy led from 1983 to 2014, before he was appointed postmaster general a little over a year ago during the administration of President Donald J. Trump. Mr. DeJoy was a leading donor to Mr. Trump in the 2016 campaign.
“Mr. DeJoy has learned that the Department of Justice is investigating campaign contributions made by employees who worked for him when he was in the private sector,” said the spokesman, Mark Corallo.
“He has always been scrupulous in his adherence to the campaign contribution laws and has never knowingly violated them,” Mr. Corallo said. He added that Mr. DeJoy was cooperating with the inquiry.
Mr. DeJoy has received a grand-jury subpoena for information connected to the investigation, according to a person familiar with the inquiry who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose details related to the grand jury.
Spokesmen for the Postal Service, the Justice Department and the F.B.I. declined to comment.
The Washington Post, which reported the existence of the federal investigation into Mr. DeJoy on Thursday, reported last year that some New Breed Logistics employees believed that Mr. DeJoy and others close to him had pressured them to contribute to Republican candidates.
Some of them told The Post and The New York Times last year that senior officials at the company had suggested that the company would provide bonuses to employees who made contributions. Three employees told The Times then that it was widely believed that the bonuses were meant to reimburse the political donations.
Campaign finance records shows that over a dozen management-level employees at New Breed would routinely donate to the same candidate on the same day, often writing checks for an identical amount of money.
One day in October 2014, for example, 20 midlevel and senior officials at the company donated a total of $37,600 to the campaign of Senator Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, who was running to unseat a Democratic incumbent. Each official wrote a check for either $2,600, the maximum allowable donation, or $1,000.
It is not illegal for an employer to urge employees to contribute to political campaigns. But it is a violation of campaign finance law for an individual or company to reimburse donations — in effect working around political contribution limits by making additional donations under another person’s name.
It is not clear what period of time the Justice Department investigation covers. Mr. DeJoy sold New Breed in 2014 and served on the board of the acquiring company until 2018.
There is a five-year statute of limitations for criminal violations of federal campaign finance law, meaning Mr. DeJoy could only be prosecuted for violations of that sort that took place in 2016 or later.
At a hearing last year, Representative Jim Cooper, Democrat of Tennessee, suggested that Mr. DeJoy had reimbursed his employees after they made political donations, an allegation that Mr. DeJoy denied.
“That’s an outrageous claim, sir, and I resent it,” Mr. DeJoy said.
The investigation into Mr. DeJoy follows months of questions from Democrats over whether he had used his position overseeing the Postal Service to help Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign last year by slowing mail deliveries to make voting by mail during the coronavirus pandemic less attractive and reliable. Mr. DeJoy has denied taking any steps to deter voting by mail.
The Biden administration has made clear that it is keen to see newly elected members of the United States Postal Service board remove Mr. DeJoy from his position. (The Postal Service’s board of governors, who are appointed by the president, choose the postmaster general for an indefinite term.)
When the Postal Service board announced last May that Mr. DeJoy would serve as postmaster general, he was known as a logistics industry veteran, a top political donor in Republican circles in North Carolina and a supporter of Mr. Trump’s presidency.
A left-leaning watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, estimated that Mr. DeJoy had donated more than $2.5 million to Republican state parties, committees and candidates from 2016 to 2020.
At the time of his nomination last May, federal filings showed that Mr. DeJoy had already donated about $360,000 to Trump Victory, a super PAC supporting Mr. Trump’s re-election bid, and thousands more to the Republican National Committee.
Mr. DeJoy was an active Republican donor for years. His wife, Aldona Wos, was tapped by the George W. Bush administration to serve as the ambassador to Estonia in 2004 and by the Trump administration to serve as the ambassador to Canada in 2020.
Although Mr. DeJoy’s logistics company had served as a contractor for the Postal Service, critics argued that his lack of direct Postal Service experience made him unqualified to lead the financially troubled agency.
Democrats viewed Mr. DeJoy’s selection as a way to embed a Trump ally into a top federal position who would be able to carry out Mr. Trump’s agenda even if he lost the election.
Soon after becoming postmaster general last June, Mr. DeJoy enacted a raft of changes to the Postal Service that critics said made it harder for people to vote by mail. He eliminated employee overtime, removed mail-sorting machines from postal facilities and reorganized top leaders, changes that slowed mail service and raised concerns that the Postal Service would not be able to handle the high volumes of mail-in ballots that were cast in the November election.
Mr. DeJoy argued that the changes were intended to make the Postal Service financially stable, but after a flurry of litigation, some of those decisions were postponed.
“I am not engaged in sabotaging the election,” Mr. DeJoy said. He called such allegations a “false narrative.”
At a hearing in February before the same House panel to discuss the post office’s service and financial problems, Mr. DeJoy apologized for the Postal Service’s slow delivery times during the 2020 holiday season and vowed to make systemic improvements.
He also presented a 10-year plan to overhaul the Postal Service to deal with its extensive financial troubles. It remains unclear whether the Mr. Biden’s nominees to serve on the Postal Service’s board will remove him.
Alan Rappeport, Catie Edmondson and Luke Broadwater contributed reporting.