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Fact-checking Barnes’ peanut butter ad

By Heather Smith, MacIver Institute

Wisconsin Spotlight  | Oct. 12, 2022

The airwaves are flooded with campaign ads, and we’ve got to persevere through them for another month.

One ad caught our eye recently because in a sea of ads that are marked – often defined – by untruths and misrepresentations, it was notable for how many of them were packed into 30 seconds.

Today we fact check the ad Mandela Barnes calls “Crumbs.”

‘Ron Johnson’s at it again, lying about my taxes’

Barnes is off to a ‘false’ start here.

Public documents and multiple news stories – and Barnes’ own statements – have revealed Barnes’ repeated property tax delinquencies, and failure to file an income tax return one year:

  • Barnes was delinquent on both his 2018 and 2019 property taxes, on one of his 2 homes
  • The Milwaukee Treasurer’s office confirmed he was also delinquent paying what he owed for 2017 property taxes
  • He did not file an income tax return in 2018

Barnes, on video and in print, has made various, sometimes clearly false claims about his failure to pay:

  • His 2018 property taxes were due at the end of January 2019. He received multiple bills after that, citing his delinquency.
  • In a June 19 interview with a TV reporter, he claimed most people are similarly delinquent on property taxes and that his “check was in the mail.” Two days before that, June 17, Barnes tweeted “The check is in the mail.” The city finally received payment on June 26th, which strongly suggests his check was not, in fact, in the mail.
  • In another video he admits he “was late paying bills” but then he follows that up with a false claim that it was because he was “working for a non-partisan organization.” That story doesn’t work with the timeline since Barnes quit that job more than a year before his 2018 property taxes came due.
  • In the Democratic primary debate when asked about how high levels of inflation impacted him personally, he immediately referenced his tax delinquencies, mentioning with a laugh ‘stories about financial struggles he faced’ that everyone had heard, suggesting that the current inflation was the cause for him not paying his taxes. It’s a problematic explanation, since the Bidenflation he is blaming for being unable to pay his bills didn’t exist in the years he was delinquent on his property taxes while sitting on a healthy savings account.
  • Barnes claimed to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in June 2019 that he was paying his taxes in installments, but the Milwaukee Treasurer’s office said Barnes had not entered into an installment agreement, had made no installment payments, and was delinquent.
  • It’s difficult to give credence to his claim that he was eating peanut butter sandwiches because he couldn’t afford to pay the tax bill due in January 2019, since he was gainfully employed as lieutenant governor, and in February of 2019 he purchased a second home using a portion of his savings to finance a $30,000 down payment.
  • In March of 2019, owning two homes, Barnes got courtside seats at a Bucks game while his property taxes went unpaid.
  • His 2019 property taxes on one of his homes were also delinquent, and he offers no explanation for that.
  • He owed a portion of the 2017 taxes on the home he purchased – for cash – in October 2017. He left that December tax bill unpaid for months, claiming he didn’t owe it, while he took a trip to Las Vegas.
  • On the issue of not filing income taxes in 2018, his campaign indicated that he wasn’t required to file because he was unemployed while campaigning for lieutenant governor and living frugally. The same article notes campaign donors were paying an average of $1,200 a month for his expenses, and taxpayers were picking up the tab for his health insurance.

‘Let’s be clear, my taxes are paid in full’

Barnes is on safer ground with this statement, although even this is misdirection. Barnes has paid back his repeatedly delinquent taxes and the fines that accumulated over the lengthy periods he refused to pay.

However, the criticism Barnes faces is not for a current delinquency, but for a repeated pattern of delinquency in paying any share of his own taxes while at the same time supporting and campaigning for tax hikes because other people don’t pay “their fair share.”

Let’s look at the facts:

  • Barnes purchased a home in Milwaukee by paying cash – in full – in October 2017. He owned it free and clear, and had no mortgage payments.
  • Less than 2 months later he voluntarily quit a well-paid directorship to run for office.
  • Then Barnes chose to have the taxpayers pick up the tab for his BadgerCare health insurance as an able-bodied, working-age childless adult, rather than pay for a COBRA using the substantial savings he retained even after the home purchase.
  • His campaign donors financed an average of $1,200 a month of his expenses.
  • His campaign staff claim he also had – after paying cash for a home just months before – “personal savings” that he used.
  • Those substantial personal savings the ‘destitute’ Barnes had were, even after paying cash for one home, enough to finance a $30,000 down payment on a second home (he still owns both) just 16 months after he bought the first one, and after 12 months of unemployment.
  • Barnes’ Statements of Economic Interest shows he has no student loan debt.
  • During the periods when Barnes was delinquent on 2018 and 2019 property taxes for one of his two homes, he was lieutenant governor, making $80,000, well over double the median individual income in Wisconsin of just over $30,000.

The facts paint a picture of a single, able-bodied young man, with no dependents, flush enough with cash to buy two homes (one paid in full with cash) inside 16 months, no student loan debt, hefty savings, donors financing expenses of more than a grand a month, and savvy enough to get on welfare so the taxpayers would foot the bill for his health care.

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