By M.D. Kittle |Wisconsin Watchdog
MADISON, Wis. – U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s PR Machine went into hyper-drive Monday following news of a potentially damning ethics complaint filed against the Madison Democrat by a former aide that Baldwin sacked in what the deputy has charged is a “political cover-up.’
Baldwin’s office has not returned Wisconsin Watchdog’s multiple requests for comment, but a spokesman on Monday told other media outlets that Marquette Baylor’s complaint is nothing more than a “partisan hit job.”
Poor Tammy, the victim of a right-wing attack, her public relations team declared.
“It’s sad that Marquette Baylor has chosen to be used as a pawn by Senator Baldwin’s right-wing Republican opponents in what is nothing more than a political hit job by a go-to Republican firm,” Baldwin spokesman John Kraus told the Wisconsin State Journal.
The firm currently represents conservatives who have been subjected to Wisconsin’s political John Doe investigations, but it has a long line of clients without political backgrounds.
Dane Martin, attorney with Graves Garrett, said the firm does not plan to respond to Baldwin’s assertions.
“The Ethics Complaint contains all the salient facts,” Martin said in an email to Wisconsin Watchdog Tuesday.
He said Baylor would not provide public comments when asked if the former Baldwin aide would speak to Wisconsin Watchdog.
Baylor was fired by Baldwin in February following a scandal at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center that has embroiled the junior senator. It claims the senator lied and has engaged in a political cover-up.
“I, Marquette Baylor, bring this Ethics Complaint against my former employer, Senator Tammy Baldwin, for making false statements and representations to cover up actions by her Chief of Staff and protect her political career,” Baylor states in the complaint.
Baldwin caught heat after investigative reports in January detailed allegations of abuses at the VA medical center, principally the over-prescribing of painkillers that allegedly led to the deaths of several patients.
Baldwin’s office, according to reports, did nothing with an inspector general’s report last year outlining the concerns and refused to act when a whistleblower reportedly begged Baldwin’s office to do something.
As the national spotlight grew hotter, Baldwin canned Baylor, her longtime deputy state director with, by all accounts, a sterling resume working for Baldwin and her predecessor, U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Milwaukee.
Baldwin has said nothing about Baylor’s termination, nor the hefty severance package — with a confidentiality clause — offered to the aide. As Wisconsin Watchdog first reported , Baylor refused the payout and has enlisted the help of attorneys.
“After the public outcry, Senator Baldwin immediately sought to place the blame squarely on me,” Baylor states in her complaint. “(Baldwin) instructed her Chief of Staff, Bill Murat, to fly to Milwaukee, fire me, and offer me a severance package that required me to stay quiet. Murat then moved into damage control, meeting with individuals in Wisconsin and telling them that the inaction was my fault.”
In February, Baldwin brought in Democrat political fixer Mark Elias to deal with the messy situation for a first-term senator — the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate — who has had relatively easy sledding in the media up until now.
In 2011, Politico named Elias to its list of 50 politicos to watch. The publication described the attorney as “quick-talking, Twitter-savvy.” Elias has represented a “veritable who’s who of Democratic power players, from Sens. Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to a trio of new outside groups with close ties to party leaders that are angling to spend tens of millions of dollars on ads attacking Republicans in the 2012 elections — Majority PAC, House Majority PAC and American Bridge,” Politico wrote.
Just who is paying for Elias’ political repair service is not entirely clear, just as Baldwin has never discussed how she would have paid for Baylor’s gag order-bound severance package.
Baldwin’s office issued a subsequent report acknowledging mistakes were made. She says she demoted her state director and cut her chief of staff’s pay, among other disciplinary actions. Baldwin said she fired Baylor because of performance issues over time, including her handling of the Tomah VA Medical Center case.
Baylor in her complaint says she had worked for the senator since June 2013, creating a presence for the senator in Milwaukee. Baylor has long been involved in progressive causes in the Milwaukee area.
Her complaint paints a picture of a political office in turmoil.
“Shortly after assuming the role of Deputy State Director, I immediately encountered communication, personnel, and transition difficulties between and within Senator Baldwin’s various offices. These difficulties arose from the overall lack of office structure and protocols, unstated and changing job responsibilities, and the lack of standard operating procedures and training for the staff,” Baylor writes in her complaint.
“The absence of defined policies and the inability to create policies stood in stark contrast to my experience working for Senator Kohl.”
The Senate Ethics Committee will now decide whether an investigation is in order. The committee’s legal counsel did not return a call from Wisconsin Watchdog seeking comment.
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