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Baldwin’s public relations team kicks into high gear following ethics complaint

By   /   April 21, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 4 of 47 in the series Tomah VA Scandal

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.

AP file photo

TAMMY’S TEAM FIRES BACK: Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s fix-it team is firing back against an ethics complaint filed by a former Baldwin aide.

“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.

Kraus was referring to Graves Garrett LLC, the Kansas City law firm representing Baylor in her ethics complaint before the Senate’s Select Committee on Ethics.

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.

Part of 47 in the series Tomah VA Scandal
  1. After damaging silence, Baldwin now calls for probe of troubled VA center
  2. Legal expert says U.S. Sen Tammy Baldwin is in full ‘damage control’
  3. Baldwin aide breaks silence, alleges senator engaged in ‘coverup’
  4. Baldwin’s public relations team kicks into high gear following ethics complaint
  5. Ethics watchdog urges Senate committee to investigate Baldwin
  6. Tammy Baldwin’s political fixer is helping Hillary attack voter ID
  7. Senate committee asking if FBI missed the call in veteran’s death at VA
  8. When lawmakers failed Wisconsin’s veterans
  9. Is political pressure behind Lin Ellinghuysen’s differing accounts on VA memo?
  10. Bernie Sanders failed to act in deadly VA scandal, whistleblower says
  11. Does government union chief’s threat show AFGE’s hand on veterans care?
  12. What would Russ Feingold’s 1992 self say to the 2015 version?
  13. Ad attacking Feingold asserts veterans died because of ‘politicians who looked the other way’
  14. Feingold’s campaign caught up in VA scandal memo war
  15. PolitiFact Wisconsin trusts Russ Feingold to deliver its facts
  16. Sources: Ron Kind received call from Jason Simcakoski not long before Marine’s tragic death
  17. Captain Campaign Finance Reform, Russ Feingold, changes ‘dark money’ tune
  18. Baldwin talks transparency while keeping her secrets in Tomah VA scandal
  19. Ron Kind knew about Tomah VA abuse years before the story broke
  20. Ron Kind now solving Tomah VA scandal one press release at a time
  21. Tammy Baldwin silent on her failures as she blasts Tomah VA medical center
  22. Tomah VA whistleblower says he’s getting pressure from unhappy Dems
  23. Feingold’s facts fail again in face of Tomah scandal
  24. Senate field hearing to shine more light on Tomah VA scandal
  25. Tomah VA supervisor accused of misconduct gets promoted
  26. Senate hearing to look deeper into scandal-plagued Tomah VA hospital
  27. Kind flees questions, Senate committee turns up heat on Tomah VA hospital scandal
  28. Report: Tomah VA hospital story is one of ‘systemic failures’
  29. Tomah VA hospital whistleblower: ‘It will not change’
  30. Ron Kind breaks silence on call from veteran victim at Tomah VA hospital
  31. VA union holds rally to save itself, Tomah whistleblower says
  32. Sound familiar? Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth accused of retaliation at VA
  33. Emails say Tomah VA patient reached out to Feingold, Kind, in 2008 about abuse
  34. Johnson: Hold accountable those who put Tomah veterans at risk of HIV, hepatitis
  35. Veteran jumps out of third-floor window at Tomah VA hospital
  36. Tomah VA employee: ‘We have forgotten who we work for’
  37. Congressional committees want answers on Tomah VA hospital
  38. Senators ask Pence, Trump transition team, to hold troubled VA accountable
  39. Veterans advocate: VA hospitals’ ‘improvement’ doesn’t tell whole story
  40. Tomah VA Medical Center’s ‘Candy Man’ stripped of license
  41. Opinions differ on whether it’s ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’ at Tomah VA
  42. Latest data show Tomah VA hospital improving in opioid prescriptions, veteran satisfaction
  43. VA secretary nominee faces little resistance, lots of challenges
  44. Insiders: Tomah VA troubles continue with nurse shortage, neglectful care
  45. VA whistleblower has questions for Congressman Ron Kind
  46. Johnson brings back whistleblower protection bill as Sunshine Week opens
  47. Iraq war veteran burned by ‘very frustrating process’ at VA

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M.D. Kittle is bureau chief of Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment Reporter for Watchdog.org. Kittle is a 25-year veteran of print, broadcast and online media. He is the recipient of several awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and others. He is also a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kittle's extensive series on Wisconsin's unconstitutional John Doe investigations was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze. His work has been featured in Town Hall, Fox News, NewsMax, and other national publications, and his reporting has been cited by news outlets nationwide. Kittle is a fill-in talk show host on the Jay Weber Show and the Vicki McKenna Show in Milwaukee and Madison.