Baldwin's Lawyer Incorporated Dark Money Group Defending Her Over Tomah VA Scandal

Marc Elias incorporated Majority Forward in June 2015

Senator Tammy Baldwin
Senator Tammy Baldwin / Getty Images
June 27, 2017

A lawyer brought in to do crisis control for Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D., Wis.) incorporated a dark money nonprofit group that is now defending the senator's record over the Tomah VA scandal in the state, records show.

Marc Elias, a partner at the D.C.-based law firm Perkins Coie who is considered the "go-to fixer" for Democrats in trouble, was bought in to help Baldwin following a Veterans Affairs scandal that engulfed the Democratic Wisconsin senator and her staff.

A memo first circulated in 2009 warning of the dangerous amounts of narcotics handed out to veterans at the Wisconsin Tomah VA facility by Dr. David Houlihan, Tomah VA's chief of staff. Houlihan earned the nickname "the Candy Man" for his prescriptions.

Workers at the facility feared that speaking out against Houlihan would cost them their jobs.

"It is a known fact that if providers or pharmacists refuse to follow Dr. Houlihan’s orders, they will be yelled at and perhaps fired," the memo stated.

A Marine prescribed a deadly amount of drugs by the center overdosed five years later; Dr. Houlihan was fired from the facility in 2015.

Baldwin, who was first elected to the Senate in 2012, was the only member of Congress from Wisconsin to receive an inspector general report detailing the abuses at Tomah. However, despite pleas from a whistleblower, Baldwin did not take action until it became public nearly four months later and the Marine had died.

Marquette Baylor, a former Baldwin staffer who worked as the senator's deputy state director, was fired from her position following the initial controversy. Baylor was offered a severance package in February 2015 if she would sign a confidentiality agreement on the matter. Baylor rejected the offer.

Elias was brought in at this time to help with the fallout surrounding the issue and gave the first public statement on behalf of Baldwin.

"Marquette Baylor was terminated because her long-term performance on a range of issues did not meet with the senator's expectations for effective constituent service," Elias said in a statement. "As deputy state director for constituent services, her handling of the problems at the Tomah VA was only one of those issues."

Perkins Coie, Elias' firm, received $90,000 for his work on behalf of Baldwin in 2015. The firm has been on Baldwin's payroll since 2011 but received only a combined $50,994 the other years.

The Tomah controversy has yet again taken center stage in Wisconsin, where Republicans are hitting Baldwin over her handling of the issue.

Majority Forward, a nonprofit that does not disclose its donors, is now running ads with VoteVets, a progressive veterans group, in Wisconsin in defense of Baldwin's record.

"Out-of-state billionaires can play their politics. Wisconsin veterans know the real Tammy Baldwin," Majority Forward wrote on their Facebook page.

Majority Forward was incorporated in June 2015 by Elias, according to filings with D.C.'s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Office.

Majority Forward is associated with the Senate Majority PAC, a Super PAC created by former aides to now-retired Sen. Harry Reid (D., Nev.). Elias also represents Senate Majority PAC, which shares staff and office space with Majority Forward.

Senate Majority PAC has also kicked millions to the VoteVets PAC, the second group involved with the ads defending Baldwin over the Tomah VA scandal, FEC filings show. Senate Majority PAC disbursed $2.2 million in contributions to the VoteVets PAC in October 2016.

Elias did not return requests for comment. Majority Forward, the Senate Majority PAC, and VoteVets also did not respond to inquiries by press time.

"The same Washington crisis attorney who helped Senator Baldwin cover up her failures at Tomah is now helping her deceive Wisconsinites with outside money and misinformation," Alec Zimmerman, press secretary for the Republican Party of Wisconsin, told the Washington Free Beacon in an emailed statement. "The fact remains: Senator Baldwin was the only member of Congress to receive the Inspector General's report on deaths at Tomah, and she protected the Washington status quo instead of Wisconsin veterans."

Baldwin quietly stepped away from the committee that has oversight at the Tomah VA facility earlier this year, the Free Beacon previously reported.