With several of his congressional colleagues coming under fire for dumping stock after getting a security briefing on the coronavirus, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson on Friday defended selling his stake in his family’s privately held company earlier this month.
Johnson said the deal had been in the works since 2018, long before the current global pandemic.
“Obviously, this had nothing to do with the coronavirus,” Johnson said via text regarding the sale.
Johnson just disclosed on his official statement of economic interest that he made between $5 million and $25 million on the March 2 sale of his share of Pacur LLC, an Oshkosh-based supplier of specialty plastic packaging materials. Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, headed the company before he was elected to the Senate in 2010.
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Officials disclosed the deal in a Feb. 11 news release announcing that Gryphon Investors, a San Francisco-based private equity firm, had made a large investment in Pacur.
The news release said Pacur’s management team, led by Ron Johnson’s brother, will continue to manage the business and that the Johnson family will remain significant owners. The statement didn’t disclose that Gryphon was buying out the Republican senator.
Several news outlets likened Johnson’s sale of his Pacur investment to the decisions by other senators — Republicans Richard Burr, James Inhofe and Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Dianne Feinstein — to dump stock before the market tanked. Those four each sold off seven figures worth of stock holdings after the Senate Health Committee hosted a closed-door briefing with Trump officials on Jan. 24 for all senators on the coronavirus.
(On Friday, Raw Story walked back its earlier piece tying Johnson’s Pacur sale to the coronavirus briefings: “Correction: A previous version of this story left out vital information. Raw Story regrets the omission.”)
Ben Voelkel, a spokesman for Johnson, dismissed any suggestion that the second-term Wisconsin senator sold his share of Pacur because of coronavirus concerns. Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, had an estimated net worth of $36 million in 2015.
“This transaction is the result of an investment by a private firm in Pacur, and Gryphon was excited enough about it that they sent out a press release,” Voelkel said. “Any attempts to make this seem like anything else are just sad partisan smear tactics and proactive spreading of misinformation.”
As a result of Gryphon’s investment, Voelkel added, neither Johnson nor his wife has an ownership stake in Pacur.
In a text exchange early Friday, Johnson said the process of selling off his share of the company began as early as 2018, long before there was a COVID-19. He said the actual bidding process took place late last summer.
Gryphon said in its release that the investment was “the result of a multi-year initiative to seek investments in high-quality advanced materials companies.”
Some people weren’t buying Johnson’s explanation.
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a Democrat tweeted that people were losing their jobs and businesses while Johnson was pocketing up to $25 million on his sale of his Pacur investment.
“No ‘foresight’ is that good,” Barnes wrote. “How many people lost a fraction of what he made, but may never be able to recover. This is sick.”
While other liberals, such as Madison journalist John Nichols, later apologized for their earlier attacks on Johnson over the Pacur sale, Barnes continued to criticize Johnson on Friday.
This isn’t the first time Johnson has come under criticism for his dealing with Pacur.
The Oshkosh Republican received a $10 million payout from his business — he has called it “deferred compensation” for his time as Pacur CEO — after he was elected to the Senate in 2010. The payment came after Johnson loaned $9 million to his campaign in his successful bid to knock off then-U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat.
Founded in 1979, Pacur is the leading supplier of extruded polyethylene terephthalate glycol sheet used in packaging of medical devices. The company also produces graphics, pharmaceutical packaging and food packaging applications.
Contact Daniel Bice at (414) 224-2135 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DanielBice or on Facebook at fb.me/daniel.bice.
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