By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Senate ethics panel has dismissed three complaints against Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin over her firing of a top-level staff member and handling of allegations at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Baldwin on Thursday released an Aug. 14 letter from the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics notifying her that the ethics complaints had been dismissed because they lacked merit. All three related to the firing of Baldwin’s former deputy state director Marquette Baylor and allegations that Baldwin mishandled a whistleblower’s reports of abuse at the VA hospital.
“It should be clear to everyone that these frivolous allegations are false and were nothing more than political smears,” Baldwin’s spokesman John Kraus said in a statement. “Senator Baldwin has not let these political attacks distract from the important work she has done working with Wisconsin veterans and their families to bring reform to the VA.”
Baylor, the Republican Party of Wisconsin and the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust in April requested an investigation into Baldwin’s handling of abuse allegations at the Tomah Veterans Affairs hospital and Baylor’s firing in January.
Baylor alleged in her complaint that Baldwin used her as a scapegoat in the office’s mishandling of reports of overprescribing of narcotics and retaliatory behavior at the hospital.
Baldwin said in February that Baylor was terminated due to long-term performance issues that weren’t exclusive to her dealing with concerns about the Tomah hospital. The senator later admitted responsibility for her staff’s mishandling of reports.
The committee told Baldwin the complaints lacked substantial merit and did not sufficiently allege facts or provide evidence of a violation of law, Senate rule or regulation. The committee plans to take no further action and closed the complaints, its lead attorney Deborah Sue Mayer told Baldwin.
“It is up to the people of Wisconsin to determine whether Senator Baldwin’s actions were appropriate,” Baylor’s attorney Todd Graves said in an email in reaction to the dismissal.
Messages left with the Wisconsin Republican Party and FACT were not immediately returned.
A VA report in March month concluded that patients at the Tomah facility were more likely than patients at other VA hospitals to receive high doses of pain killers. The report also said there was an atmosphere of fear among staff members that affected patient care.
In August, the VA’s inspector general said deficiencies in care led to the mixed drug toxicity death last year of Jason Simcakoski, a 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran from Stevens Point. The director of the Tomah facility was fired in September.