MADISON, Wis. – U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s campaign spent nearly $140,000 on legal advice from one of the left’s major “political fixers” since 2011, according to federal documents obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog.
The brunt of those legal fees – nearly $90,000 – were paid out in 2015, when the Madison Democrat was embroiled in a scandal involving the scandal-plagued Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Baldwin’s campaign paid Washington, D.C. attorney Marc Elias $87,779 in 2015, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. The campaign cut a check for $41,704 to the firm on March 27, 2015, during the thick of the scandal, and issued payment of $38,558 on May 21, 2015, according to campaign expenditures. There were other smaller payments.
Elias, partner at international law firm Perkins Coie, LLP, served as general counsel for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, and served in the same role for former Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.
He is known inside and outside the Swamp as a “political fixer” for his adroit way of getting Democrats out of legal and public relations trouble.
In early 2015, Baldwin tapped Elias to deal with the fallout from revelations the senator and her office did nothing with an inspector general’s report that raised concerns about over-prescribing painkillers and other abuses at the Tomah VA Medical Center. Baldwin’s office failed to act after a whistleblower reportedly begged Baldwin’s office to do something.
In the wake of the scandal, Baldwin fired top aide Marquette Baylor, who headed up the senator’s Milwaukee office.
Baylor fired back, filing a complaint in April with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. Baylor alleged Baldwin was involved in a cover-up. The senator offered her fired aide a severance package with a confidentiality agreement — hush money, as Republicans have described it.
The Ethics Committee eventually dismissed multiple complaints.
“After the public outcry, Senator Baldwin immediately sought to place the blame squarely on me,” Baylor stated 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.”
Damage control is precisely what Elias does.
In 2011, Politico named him 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.
The attorney was among a team of lawyers assisting Democrats in their drive to overturn voter ID laws in presidential battleground states North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin.
FEC records show Baldwin’s campaign paid Elias’ firm $2,215 last year.
In 2012, when Baldwin beat former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson in her first U.S. Senate run, the Democrat’s campaign spent $30,839 on legal expenses with Elias’ firm. In 2013, the bill was $14,337. The campaign spent $1,304 in 2011, and $2,299 in 2014, according to the federal documents.
Baldwin did not respond to Wisconsin Watchdog’s request for comment, sought on Thursday.
The Republican Party of Wisconsin, which this week launched an ad campaign attacking Baldwin on her Tomah VA record, criticized the senator for protecting the “status quo.” Republicans in Wisconsin and nationally see Baldwin’s seat as vulnerable in 2018.
“When Senator Baldwin had a chance to protect Wisconsin’s veterans, she protected the status quo instead and then called in a high-powered lawyer to clean up the mess,”Alec Zimmerman, spokesman for the Wisconsin GOP said in a statement. “She can get all the help she wants from Hillary Clinton’s scandal attorney and the liberal elites in Washington, but Wisconsinites have made it clear they’re fed up with insiders who have been part of the problem for decades.”
M.D. Kittle is bureau chief for Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment reporter for Watchdog.org. Contact him at [email protected]