Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is a big picture guy.
But if Barnes is going to continue his political ascent — he’s thinking about a bid for U.S. Senate — he might have to learn to pay attention to detail.
Case in point:
Barnes’ campaign was fined $1,652 last year for taking too much money from the Wisconsin Working Families Party Political Action Committee, according to campaign records. The settlement — first disclosed in his July 2020 campaign report — has not been previously reported.
State law says a candidate for lieutenant governor can take in only $26,000 from a PAC. But Barnes’ campaign received five donations from the left-wing group ranging from $100 to $12,431 in 2018 for a total of $27,652. He is a former national committee member for the Working Families Party.
The first-term Democrat agreed to pay a forfeiture to the state Ethics Commission for the excessive amount.
It’s an especially egregious mistake for someone who has railed about money in politics.
“There’s a very corrupting influence of money in politics, and we’ve seen that for a long time,” Barnes said in a lieutenant governor forum in July 2018. “We wouldn’t be where we are in Wisconsin if it were not for the corrupting influence of money.”
A Republican spokeswoman criticized Barnes for the campaign finance violation, saying it fits of a pattern of mistakes by the lieutenant governor.
In the past, the Milwaukee Democrat has misled people about receiving a college degree from Alabama A&M University. He was delinquent in paying his property taxes on his Milwaukee condo in 2019. And he once was fined $108 and blocked from registering a car because of unpaid parking tickets.
“Mandela Barnes can’t follow laws as basic as paying parking tickets or property taxes, and his own campaign violated campaign finance law?” said Anna Kelly, communications director for the state GOP. “If Barnes repeatedly breaks the law, why should Wisconsinites keep him in a position of public trust?”
Barnes’ campaign responded by releasing a statement accusing Republicans of focusing on issues from the past.
“Instead of using tired tropes to re-litigate an election they lost two years ago, maybe Republicans could try doing something to address the COVID-19 pandemic or systemic racism in our state,” the Barnes statement said.
Right now, it’s not clear what direction Barnes’ political career will go next.
He has said he is weighing a Democratic bid in 2022 for the seat currently held by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican who has yet to say whether he will seek a third term.
Last year, Barnes was a busy campaign surrogate for President Joe Biden, doing online events in such swing states as Wisconsin, Georgia and Arizona. Biden officials also reached out to Barnes about taking a job in the new administration, something he declined.
Some Democrats in the state, however, want Barnes staying right where he is and to run for reelection with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers next year, helping him shore up his support in Milwaukee County.
“We have a lot of work to do right now, and that’s what I’m focused on,” Barnes said in a recent statement to the Journal Sentinel.
A big decision for a 34-year-old politician, especially one still trying to master the all-important details.
Contact Daniel Bice at (414) 313-6684 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DanielBice or on Facebook at fb.me/daniel.bice.