U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson has sold his ownership stake in the privately held plastics fabrication company he helped launch four decades ago, a sale that made him between $5 million and $25 million.
The Oshkosh Republican’s reported activity came as at least two other GOP senators are facing scrutiny over dumping stocks worth hundreds of thousands of dollars ahead of the market turmoil stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
But Johnson’s spokesman said the March 2 move wasn’t tied to the nationwide response to the virus and instead follows a deal announced last month between PACUR and San Francisco-based private equity firm Gryphon Investors.
“The transaction was the result of an investment by a private firm in Pacur, and as John Nichols acknowledged, was unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic,” spokesman Ben Voelkel wrote in an email. “Senator and Mrs. Johnson no longer have an ownership stake in Pacur."
The stock details are listed in a publicly available transaction report Johnson filed with the Senate on Thursday. The disclosures only display amounts in ranges, so it’s unclear exactly how much Johnson netted from the sale.
The PACUR-Gryphon Investors deal was officially announced Feb. 11, an announcement that said the Johnson family would “remain significant owners” of the operation led by Johnson’s brother, Barry. But it didn’t mention Johnson would be selling his stake in PACUR.
Company officials didn’t immediately return a request for comment Friday morning.
Some members of the media and other political observers linked Johnson’s reported sale to other cases of U.S. senators selling off stock in recent weeks after attending briefings on the disease. That includes Nichols, the Cap Times opinion columnist and associate editor Voelkel referenced in his comment, who later withdrew criticism of Johnson over the sale because it was “unfair.”
But not everyone who levied criticism at Johnson has backed off. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who first associated the transaction with the coronavirus, wrote in a tweet Thursday night that “no ‘foresight’ is that good.’”
After past reports about the PACUR-Gryphon Investors deal was brought to his attention, Barnes dug in, writing: “Even if it’s a family business transaction, the fact remains, when people in the state asked for help, he said no.”
Meanwhile, fellow Republican U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Kelly Loeffler have denied allegations of insider trading as they’re facing calls to resign from office. Burr sold up to $1.7 million worth of stock last month, while Loeffler sold holdings worth up to $3 million.
Johnson’s family business was a much-used target of Democrats during the then-first-term senator’s re-election bid in 2016.
His latest financial disclosure form, filed in May 2019 and covering the 2018 calendar year, shows he had previously retained a 5% stake in the company. He had an estimated net worth of $36 million in 2015.
Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to email@example.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.