Scott Walker Is Just Like You! In Debt

Scott Walker has preached fiscal responsibility from the onset of his political career. But will his credit card debt undermine his message?

Brian Snyder/Reuters

Scott Walker owes Sears up to $50,000.

According to his most recent financial disclosure forms, the governor owed between $10,000 and $100,000 to credit card companies in 2014. One of the cards listed is a Barclay Card, and the other is a Sears MasterCard.

“Over the years, the governor has given $370,000 of his salary back to taxpayers,” emailed AshLee Strong, a spokesperson for Walker’s Our American Revival PAC. “He has two kids in college, parents who live with him, a mortgage, car payments, and small credit card use. All in all, pretty ordinary stuff.”

The governor’s credit card situation, along with other potential 2016 contenders financial circumstances, was highlighted by The Boston Globe—and has provided an opening for some of his critics.

“Both Walker's household and the deficit-laden state of Wisconsin under his purview are spending far more than they bring in,” said Scot Ross of the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now. “Seems Scott Walker might want to change his slogan to ‘Do as I say, not as do.’”

The Boston Globe noted that Walker has the lowest net worth of any serious presidential contender: -$72,500.

That’s vastly lower than the next lowest, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who clocks in at $330,507.

The Wisconsin governor has made his personal spending habits a central part of his campaign messaging (without any mention of credit card debt, naturally).

On the pre-presidential non-campaign trail, he often discusses his love of bargain-hunting at Kohl’s.

He talks about it so much, in fact, that he makes headlines when he doesn’t bring up the Wisconsin-based, sale-happy department store. Frugality is a part of his political identity, which places him in stark contrast to Mitt Romney. Many on the right hope the GOP picks a candidate without their former presidential nominee’s fancy-pants lifestyle.

In fact, The New York Times reported last December that RNC Chairman Reince Priebus cited Romney’s dancing horse and car elevators when explaining to donors in private why he lost his race.

With his negative net-worth, Walker could be the anti-Romney—and then some. Most Americans are much more familiar with hefty credit card debt than they are with dressage. According to the Federal Reserve, indebted households owed credit card companies an average of $15,611 in 2014.

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One 2014 survey showed 30 percent of Americans had more credit card debt than savings, according to CBS.

So Walker’s case isn’t extraordinary—except for the fact he’s long made his personal finances a campaign selling point.

When the folksy Wisconsinite ran for governor in 2010, he started a “Brown Bag Movement” to highlight the importance of fiscal responsibility.

And he trumpeted his modest means.

“There’s a certain sense of kinda that brown bag common sense that I got from my grandma,” he told the audience at one 2010 campaign stop. “She would have taught me, not just in government, but my own life, don’t spend more than you have,” he said. “Doesn’t seem to be obvious in Madison, certainly not obvious in Washington these days, but don’t spend more than you have.”

He telegraphed that theme in a TV ad called “Brown Bag,” where he packed a lunch of ham-and-cheese sandwiches and listed “Don’t spend more than you have” as one of his campaign’s three basic principles.

He hit the same notes in another TV ad featuring him tooling around Madison in his Saturn.

“Wouldn’t it be great if the government actually saved money like all the rest of us do?” he asked.

But he didn’t just talk up his own penny-pinching; Walker also used the state’s financial literacy awards to praise Badgers who helped spread the word about sensible spending around the state.

“Knowledge of personal finance equips our students, peers, and consumers with the ability to make informed decisions about their own money,” he said, per a press release. “Through their hard work and commitment to financial literacy these award recipients are improving the personal finances of thousands of citizens and the Wisconsin economy as a whole.”

Walker’s personal finances might stand to benefit a little, too.