Ron Johnson sold his company’s stock before the market tanked

    "Ron Johnson" by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    Sen. Ron Johnson sold between $5 million and $25 million in stock in his family’s plastics company, PACUR LLC, on March 2, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a record high, shortly before the stock market plummeted after news about the worsening COVID-19 pandemic. 

    The sale prompted speculation that Johnson, who is chair of the Homeland Security Committee, was protecting himself from the economic fallout from the pandemic, based on information shared with senators in closed-door briefings by Trump administration officials.  

    Johnson denied the accusation early Friday morning in a  text exchange with investigative reporter Dan Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

    “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,” Bice reports.

    Johnson’s colleagues, Republican Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia have also been accused of dumping stock after being briefed on the severity of the coronavirus.

    On the same day ProPublica broke the news of Burr’s stock sales, NPR obtained a recording of a private luncheon in which Burr warned supporters that the coronavirus would be much worse than projected, a message that he did not convey to the general public, and that was at odds with President Trump’s public comments that the virus was “going to disappear.” Burr is chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

    Washington Post reporter Mike DeBonis pointed out the difference between Johnson’s sale and his colleagues’ stock dump in a tweet

    “Pacur is his family’s privately held plastics company, not publicly traded. Different category from Burr/Loeffler.”

    Gryphon Investors, the San Francisco-based private equity firm that bought Johnson’s stock, announced in a Feb. 11 press release that it was making “ a strategic investment”  in Pacur, LLC.

    “This investment was the result of a multi-year initiative to seek investments in high-quality advanced materials companies, and we were impressed by Pacur’s deeply established relationships throughout the medical device value chain,” the press release stated.

    Johnson opposed the paid sick leave provision of the emergency coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress, objecting to it for “incentivizing people to not show up for work.” He also stirred up controversy when he appeared to minimize the coronavirus pandemic, suggesting that social distancing and closing businesses would hurt the economy. “We don’t shut down our economies because tens of thousands of people die from the common flu,” Johnson said.

    Ruth Conniff
    Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine, and opened the Progressive’s office in Washington, DC, during the Clinton Administration, where she made her debut as a political pundit on CNN’s Capital Gang Sunday and Fox News. She moved to Oaxaca, Mexico, for a year in 2017, where she covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Donald Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on All in with Chris Hayes on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, and other radio and television programs. In 2011, she did award-winning coverage of the uprising against Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. Conniff graduated from Yale University in 1990, where she ran track and edited the campus magazine The New Journal.