Back in the News: Report Finds ‘Corruption’ by Ron Johnson – Urban Milwaukee

Christina Brungardt. Photo by Lynn Lane/Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

The Congressional integrity Project, a new liberal leaning research group that intends to scrutinize conservative members of Congress has released its first report, and it’s aimed squarely at Wisconsin’s Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson.

Entitled “Covering for Corruption,” the report charges that: 

-Johnson, “one of the richest members of the Senate, with a net worth of tens of millions” has grown his wealth by anywhere from 50 percent to 100 percent since he took office, according to Johnson’s Personal Financial Disclosures.

-“During his 2010 campaign, Johnson promised to place his assets in a blind trust to ensure that he would legislate in the public interest. That did not happen.” 

-Johnson blocked efforts to crack down on corporate tax dodging while benefitting from this. Johnson “owns 9.9 percent of DP Lenticular, a Dublin-based company, which is worth up to $500,000” and had just one full-time employee. “Johnson’s brother, Barry, sat on their board. The company is owned by Spanish holding company that pays no taxes….Johnson repeatedly opposed measures to close the tax loophole that allows companies to avoid taxes by reincorporating in low-tax countries like Ireland.” 

-“In 2017, Johnson cast the deciding vote for the Republican tax bill — but only after winning changes to line his own pockets.” He “successfully pressured Senate leadership to lower taxes for pass-through businesses… whose owners report profits on their individual tax returns. Those changes significantly lessened the tax burden on companies like Pacur, still run by Johnson’s brother.”

-The 2017 tax bill “also provided a massive boon to private equity firms,” including Gryphon Investors, which bought Pacur in February 2020. “The tax bill’s provisions appear to have benefited Johnson enormously.” According to his senate financial disclosure forms, before the bill’s provisions had gone into effect, “Johnson estimated his stake in Pacur was only worth between $1 million and $5 million. One month after Pacur was sold to Gryphon, however Johnson sold his stake for between $5 million and $25 million.”

-“As the country faced an unprecedented pandemic, Johnson made millions…According to Senate disclosures, Johnson sold his stock in Pacur on March 2 — before states locked down and markets began to sink. Johnson’s profits from the sale of his company may have been as high as $25 million, eclipsing the $1.7 and $3 million that Sens. Richard Burr and Kelly Loeffler respectively pocketed from stock sales following closed-door briefings on Covid-19.”

-“While Johnson enjoyed his new profits, he fought against measures to protect American businesses. In June, Johnson tried to stop bill to help small businesses obtain loans under the Payment Protection Program — and then fought to end it early even as many states reported a record number of new Covid-19 infections. In July, he called continued aid to unemployed Americans ‘perverse’ and vowed to vote against ‘even a dime more’ in spending. Johnson even proposed limiting loan forgiveness to businesses that reported less than 60 percent of their 2019 income in 2020, arguing that ‘no one should be allowed to make money off it.’”

in response to the report, Johnson, through an aide, told NBC he didn’t recall a campaign promise to create a blind trust and that he didn’t do this because “his family runs the business, making it impossible for it to be truly blind.”

As to his sale of stock in Pacur in March, after members of Congress received confidential briefings on the coronavirus pandemic, Johnson has said the sale had been in the works since 2018 and was unrelated to the pandemic. “His office shared correspondence indicating that the Senate Ethics Committee ‘did not find evidence’ that he had violated federal law or Senate rules or conduct guidelines in the sale,” NBC reported. 

And regarding the 2017 tax bill pass-through provision he benefitted from, Johnson’s spokesperson told NBC it is “intellectually dishonest” to suggest that securing lower tax rates for a majority of small businesses is self-dealing. “Senator Johnson was one of the few members of Congress worried about pass-throughs. It is thanks to his work that the average American business was helped by the tax bill,” the spokesman said

As for the overseas company he invested in that paid no taxes, Johnson told NBC he got a return of no more than $5,000 from this. 

The non-profit, 501(c)4 Congressional Integrity Project lists a board whose members have previously worked for Democratic politicians or liberal advocacy groups. It declines to disclose the source of its funding. The group promises there will be further research on Johnson, and other conservative members of Congress who have “used their positions to enrich themselves and those close to them.”  

A New York Times story suggests Johnson was the first target because his senate committee has been looking for negative information about Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. “Tired of watching Republicans with their own checkered ethics backgrounds attack Mr. Biden over his son’s business dealings in Ukraine, a group of Democratic officials on Wednesday introduced an organization intended to target corruption by congressional Republicans,” the story noted. “Of course, few Washington politicians have used the federal government to boost their personal business interests more than Mr. Trump has, so it remains to be seen how effective the new organization will be in damaging the political reputation of Mr. Johnson, who doesn’t face re-election until 2022…”

Johnson has been given a grade of “F” by the Republican-leaning Lugar Center for his leadership of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, as Urban Milwaukee has reported. And top congressional Democrats led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have warned in a letter that “Russian-linked information is being funneled to” Johnson’s committee to “further Russia’s efforts to interfere again in the American presidential election” and “to smear” the Biden campaign. In response to the Democrats, Johnson told Politico “They’re simply wrong.”