Fact Checking Barnes’ “Crumbs” Ad: Do Choosy Tax Delinquents Choose Jif?

Barnes pleads poverty in an ad claiming he lived on peanut butter and couldn’t afford to pay his taxes

The facts tell a different story of a candidate so flush with cash he paid cash for one house and still had enough to make a big down payment on a second home after a year of willful unemployment.


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’s 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 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 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.”

But there were times I was getting by on peanut butter sandwiches

Here Barnes, alluding to apparently desperate financial struggles that forced him to choose between food and paying taxes owed on one of his two homes, casts peanut butter as the food of the destitute as he makes a sandwich out of brand name Jif, not a less expensive generic. 

In the past year, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, the price of peanut butter is skyrocketing along with other groceries, forced up by Bidenflation policies Barnes supports. In 2022 so far, the price of peanut butter has increased nearly 9%, following a more than 6% increase in 2021. But regardless of whether the policies Barnes supports have driven up the cost of groceries including peanut butter, making it harder for families to manage their budgets, the question here is whether Barnes was as poverty-stricken as he seems to claim.

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 2 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. 

This is not the picture of poverty, or even of the struggling middle class; it’s a picture of affluence and entitlement. 


  • Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing studies says “Home ownership is strongly associated with wealth…” Barnes owns two homes.
  • The median savings of people in their 30s is $3,240 according to Forbes. Barnes still had 10 times that amount even after purchasing a home paid for in full and not working for a year.
  • A third of people 25-24 have student loan debt – Barnes had none.
  • There is no asset limit for BadgerCare enrollment of childless adults, so Barnes was legally eligible to enroll and take advantage of taxpayer-funded free health care during the year he chose not to work.

    However the idea of a willfully unemployed, comparatively affluent young man with no debt, who had substantial savings even after paying cash for a home, having his expenses paid at a level that – had they been counted as income – would have put him over the income threshold for Medicaid, being eligible to have taxpayers foot the bill for his health care is something that many see as abuse of welfare programs mean to help the truly needy.

    Barnes has been clear he wants to expand the Medicaid rolls even more.  But it is poor policy to allow people with wealth who choose not to work to take advantage of taxpayers by going on welfare

There is no shame in being financially secure, as Barnes clearly is. There’s nothing wrong with having access to a good deal of family money and having no debt. But a person in such an enviable position masquerading as impoverished is not only dishonest, but he demeans those who truly face financial difficulties.

Barnes hides his affluence while faking poverty as a means to connect with an audience who wishes they were so lucky, and to excuse blowing off paying his fair share of taxes and letting the less fortunate pick up his slack.

That’s why I support a tax cut for the middle class, putting more money in your pockets

Saying he supports “a” middle class tax cut is accurate, but misleading at best. Barnes has supported, and voted for, massive tax hikes that would have taken money out of the pockets of Wisconsinites at every income level, including middle class taxpayers.

  • Barnes has supported huge income tax hikes, including on struggling farmers and manufacturers
  • Barnes supports increasing property taxes
  • The Evers-Barnes Administration vetoed a middle-class tax cut in early 2019, while Barnes was delinquent on his property taxes and purchasing a second home
  • Barnes voted to hike the gas tax, and like many who don’t worry about money, he claimed a whopping 29% increase was “modest”
  • Barnes characterized the Evers-Barnes 2019-21 budget that raised taxes over a billion dollars as the “will of the people”

It’s hard to say who Barnes believes makes up the middle class – apparently it does not include farmers, people who pay their property taxes or purchase gasoline – but his record shows he supports higher taxes, and higher government spending. And that means less in the pockets of taxpayers and more in the pockets of the government.


‘Cause I know how hard you work

Barnes has clearly watched others work hard. 

He repeatedly references his father who worked third shift, and his mom who worked in MPS, and it is clear his family worked hard to provide him opportunities that many don’t have, or opportunities Barnes would deny others: 

  • The opportunity to escape failing Milwaukee Public Schools and attend a choice school where he had a chance to learn to read, do math, and be prepared for college. Though his parents gave him this chance, Barnes is vocally opposed to providing other parents who want to take their children out of failing schools the same opportunities he had.
  • The opportunity to attend college and emerge debt free.
  • The opportunity to receive a substantial inheritance allowing him to pay cash for a home, quit work to campaign full time and finance a second home

And in spite of his calls to defund the police, a position Barnes has since clarified to say means he would ‘simply take funding away from police budgets to use for other things,’ (a distinction without a difference the mainstream media has given him a pass on) he has obviously also watched how hard the taxpayer-funded police officers assigned to his personal detail work.  

  • Barnes has multiple State Patrol Officers assigned to his personal detail attending to his security and chauffeuring needs.
  • The police officers have logged 10 times as many hours serving Barnes as they did the previous lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, in spite of the fact that a substantial portion of Barnes’ term was marked by stay-at-home orders and pandemic lockdowns.
  • Unlike Kleefisch, who did not require the State Patrol attend her for personal activities, Barnes takes his State Patrol posse everywhere, averaging 13 hours of cop coverage every single day of the year, whether he is campaigning or running a marathon. The salaries, travel, hotel and other expenses are all financed by taxpayers.
  • While receiving this unprecedented level of taxpayer-funded police protection for himself, Barnes in 2020 accused police of murder, white supremacy, systemic racism, and said “those of us who are on the receiving end” of police violence learn police officers aren’t always “serving and protecting them as they should.”

Barnes has spent a lifetime watching people work hard to provide him opportunities and safety. But he doesn’t seem to appreciate the many taxpayers who have much less than he does, but worked hard to pay to provide him with welfare benefits when he chose not to work. And they now fund an extremely high level of police protection for him, while he would cut funding for police to protect them in their communities.

But Johnson used his Senate seat to write a loophole that gave huge tax cuts to himself and his biggest donors, leaving us crumbs. That’s how we get left behind.

Again, Barnes is deliberately, knowingly misleading, falsely characterizing the tax plan he references.

Even Politifact has labeled the “loophole” narrative false, describing the tax cut Johnson supported as benefitting typically “small, family owned businesses.” 

Far from benefiting only Johnson and a couple donors, the proposal benefitted more than 95% of the nations’ 26 million businesses, almost all of which are small according to the Brookings institute.

Barnes may think this  falsehood is good spin, but the truth is because of Ron Johnson’s effort, tens of millions of middle class families working hard to make a living from their small business received tax relief that otherwise would have gone only to corporations. The fact is:

  • Johnson made sure those workers weren’t left behind.
  • He made sure those middle class families did get tax relief, and they were not left with crumbs.

There is much to unpack in this well-produced folksy ad chock-a-block full of falsehoods about the policy positions, background, and integrity of both candidates.  We have another month to go, and if things get worse from here, it’s impossible to imagine what we will be seeing in a few weeks.