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U.S. Capitol Police officers with guns drawn as rioters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. (AP) U.S. Capitol Police officers with guns drawn as rioters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. (AP)

U.S. Capitol Police officers with guns drawn as rioters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. (AP)

By D.L. Davis September 30, 2022

Barnes team misfires on claim Johnson voted against law enforcement

If Your Time is short

  • Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes cited a decade-old vote by Sen. Ron Johnson in favor of a balanced budget, but the best suggestion is cuts to law enforcement might have happened down the line as a result of the measure. They were not part of it.

  • Likewise, Johnson’s vote against the American Rescue Plan Act’s COVID-19 relief act did not directly mean a loss of money for law enforcement. 

  • And Johnson’s criticism of a newer plan from President Joe Biden that included police training money was indirect at best.

In U.S. Senate races across the country, Republicans have been questioning Democrats’ commitment to law enforcement.

In this claim, the roles are reversed.

It’s the Democratic challenger, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, slamming the incumbent, Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, for an alleged lack of support for law enforcement. It came as Barnes responded to attacks on his support for eliminating cash bail.

"Ron Johnson has voted against funding for law enforcement and recently opposed a plan to recruit and train new officers," the Barnes campaign said in a Sept. 2 news release

The same news release included this claim, "Under Lt. Governor Barnes’ plan, the Waukesha perpetrator wouldn’t have been released," which we rated Mostly True.

As we dive in, let’s specify a few things.

First, funding for police officers is primarily done locally, not through Congress. Most typically, federal funding has come in grant money, which is often used to encourage local government units to hire more officers.

Second, Congress is different from local or state legislative bodies. It’s a place where it is common for spending measures to roll in dozens upon dozens of issues and proposals, many of which never get a straight up-or-down vote. As such, it can be hard to tease out what an individual lawmaker’s vote means on any number of those issues.

So, did Johnson vote "against funding for law enforcement" and recently oppose "a plan to recruit and train new officers?"

Let’s look at both parts of the claim.

Voting ‘against funding for law enforcement’

On this part of the statement, the Barnes news release largely cited two votes from Johnson’s nearly 12 years in Congress. Both of them are stretches, at best.

The first was Johnson’s past support for a balanced budget proposal from U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

A May 6, 2012, report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank that analyzes the impact of federal and state government budget policies, concluded the proposal "would make massive new cuts in nondefense discretionary spending, which funds everything from veterans’ health care to medical and scientific research, highways, education, national parks, food safety, clean air and water enforcement, and border protection and other law enforcement."

Johnson favored the plan, which ultimately failed 42-57 in a May 16, 2012, vote.

But that’s not a direct vote on cutting law enforcement. It’s a vote on a measure that would result in cuts, and those cuts might include law enforcement, but not in the way most people would think of it: Taking lots of officers off the streets.

Similarly, the Barnes campaign cites Johnson’s March 6, 2021, vote against the American Rescue Plan Act, which passed, 50-49. The COVID-19 relief package, passed by Democrats under President Joe Biden, included $350 billion for state and local governments to reduce violence.

A White House Fact Sheet noted that "Before the American Rescue Plan passed, the Menino Survey found that 27% of mayors anticipated making significant cuts to their police budgets and services."

Featured Fact-check

The Boston University Initiative on Cities, an urban leadership and research center at Boston University. administers the Menino Survey, a national survey of mayors named for the late Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.

But PolitiFact National already tackled this issue, when it rated False this claim from U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va.: "Every Republican in Congress voted to defund the police when they voted against the American Rescue Plan."

Here we’ll draw from that fact check’s conclusion: 

"The $1.9 trillion stimulus dedicates $350 billion to compensating state, local and tribal governments for lost revenue during the coronavirus crisis. The law gives the governments wide flexibility in using the money, and one option is to spend it on essential workers or their departments. 

"But the bill never guaranteed that the money would go to essential workers — including police and their departments — when Republicans voted against it. And there’s a huge difference between voting against a possible one-time cash injection into police departments and cutting their existing funding, as Scott implied."

So, Barnes comes up empty on the first part of the claim.

Opposing "a plan to recruit and train new officers"

Here Barnes argues Johnson opposed a Biden police and crime prevention plan to recruit and train 100,000 new officers, citing an Aug. 8 WTMJ-TV, Channel 4, report.

The proposal was Biden’s $37 billion Safer America Plan, which according to a July 21 memo from the White House aims to provide funding to communities for several initiatives including "hiring and training 100,000 additional police officers for community policing (nearly $13 billion over the next five years through the COPS Hiring Program) and setting aside dedicated funds for small law enforcement agencies." 

In the Aug. 8 WTMJ report, when asked about the plan, Johnson told the station: 

"I’m sure he’s going to spend more money that we don’t have, exacerbating inflation, not accomplishing whatever goal it’s trying to accomplish." 

Johnson campaign spokesperson Alexa Henning argued the quote, cited by Barnes’ team, "completely takes out of context the Senator's remarks at the media gaggle following his American Legion speech." 

"The Senator was not aware of the exact legislation prior to the reporter asking him the question," Henning said in an email to PolitiFact Wisconsin. "He wasn’t opposing the specifics of the bill, instead he was commenting on how Democrats' massive spending bills are exacerbating inflation and mortgaging our kids’ future." 

Fair enough. But that muddle is partly on Johnson, for expressing opposition to a bill before understanding what was in it.

In any case, there have been multiple other occasions when Johnson has backed spending for law enforcement, such as establishing a reserve fund to hire 100,000 new police officers nationwide to combat the crime wave and the proposed JUSTICE Act, which included $100 million in federal grants to assist law enforcement officers in training, and access to new technology for body-worn cameras. The measure also authorized $50 million to establish new funding for state and local law enforcement agencies to pay for costs related to training.

Also, it is Johnson — not Barnes — who has the most public backing from police groups and law enforcement officials in the race, including an endorsement from the Milwaukee Police Association

Our ruling

Barnes said, "Ron Johnson has voted against funding for law enforcement and recently opposed a plan to recruit and train new officers." 

The evidence on both is beyond thin.

On the first part of the claim, Team Barnes makes an American Rescue Plan Act-related claim PolitiFact has already rated False. Also, Johnson’s vote on a budget balance bill was cited, but the best evidence is cuts to law enforcement funding might have happened down the line. On the second part of the claim, the criticism of Johnson’s response to Biden’s Safer America Plan is indirect at best — albeit, the response apparently came in knee-jerk fashion.

Finally, the claim ignores cases where Johnson has backed law enforcement.

We rate this claim False.


Our Sources

Barnes campaign, news release, "FACT: Sen. Ron Johnson Has Voted Against Funding and Resources for Law Enforcement" Sept. 2, 2022

Center for Budget and Policy, "Toomey Budget Similar to House-Passed Ryan Budget," May 9, 2012

U.S. Senate roll call vote, On the Motion to Proceed (Motion to Proceed to Consider S.Con.Res. 37 ) Toomey plan (S. Con. Res. 37), May 16, 2012

U.S. Senate roll call vote, On Passage of the Bill (H.R. 1319, As Amended ) (H.R.1319 - American Rescue Plan Act of 2021) March 6, 2021 

White House Fact Sheet "President Biden Issues Call for State and Local Leaders to Dedicate More American Rescue Plan Funding to Make Our Communities Safer – And Deploy These Dollars Quickly," May 13, 2022 

WTMJ-4  "President Biden lays out plan to tackle violence as Milwaukee faces police shortage, rising crime," August 30, 2022.

White House Fact Sheet "President Biden’s Safer America Plan," July 21, 2022. 

PolitiFact Wisconsin "Scott falsely accuses GOP of defunding police," July 22, 2021

Email, Alexa Henning, Sen. Ron Johnson staff, Sept. 23, 29, 2022

PolitiFact Wisconsin "High probability that Barnes plan to end cash bail would have kept parade suspect in jail," Sept. 22, 2022.

ACLU "ACLU Statement on Biden’s ‘Safer America Plan,’" July 21, 2022

Milwaukee Police Association endorsement letter to Ron Johnson, Sept. 22, 2022.

U.S. Congress Amendment 2734 117th Congress, 2021-22

U.S. Congress Amendment 2734, roll call, 117th Congress, 2021-22

U.S. Congress S.3985, The JUSTICE Act ,roll call, June 24, 2020

GovTrack.US. S.3985 Justice Act


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Barnes team misfires on claim Johnson voted against law enforcement

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