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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Closer Look at Ron Johnson's Biography

As is the case with too many political candidates, especially those who appear from nowhere without any experience under the public spotlight, millionaire businessman and Republican Senate candidate Ron Johnson has taken to distorting the nature of his background. In an effort to produce a more complete picture of this Senator-wannabe and to point out where there are holes that need to be filled in, I parsed Johnson's official biography posted on his website. Set forth are my questions and corrections; the text in black is Johnson's biography: 
Ron grew up (in Mankato, Minnesota) in a family and in a place where one of the greatest compliments you could give a person was to say that he or she was a hard worker. This belief in a strong work ethic has been a core principle that has guided Ron's life. (Hard work to convince a wealthy woman to marry him?)

As soon as Ron was old enough he started mowing lawns and shoveling driveways to earn a few extra dollars. He delivered papers, caddied at the local golf course, and he even helped bale hay on his uncle's dairy farm.

At the age of 15, Ron started paying taxes (so he did not pay taxes on his prior income? They might be petty jobs but that does not necessarily exempt him from his tax obligations) when he began working at Walgreen's Grill. He only started as a dishwasher, but he quickly rose through the ranks to become a night manager before reaching the age of 16. (This is a spurious claim and at a minimum, reeks of exaggeration.  Under the child labor laws in effect in most states at the time, it would be exceptionally difficult for a 15-year-old to hold the position of "night manager.')

Ron and his wife of 32 years, Jane, met during his senior year of high school. (It is also unclear how he met the Wisconsin food packing heiress while he was in high school in Minnesota. Johnson never graduated from high school. Through Minnesota's Early Admission program, Johnson was reportedly able to proceed to college without a high school diploma.) While in college, Ron lived at home and worked full time in order to pay for all of his college expenses. Because of his work ethic, Ron was able to graduate college debt-free and with $7,000 in the bank. (Johnson attended the University of Minnesota and graduated in 1977 with a degree in accounting. Was it really because of his "work ethic" that he was able to pay his way through college or the fact that college was dirt cheap at that time? In 1977, tuition and fees at the University of Minnesota was $990. Inflation adjusted, that would be about $3,500 today. Current tuition has gone up over 40%  above inflation with a semester now costing a Minnesota resident about $5,000. If Johnson recognizes the value of being able to graduate from college debt free, what is he going to do to help fix the problem of a generation of college graduates being financially crippled by the immense debt necessary to get through college today, even with working full time?) On August 20th of the same year he graduated college, Ron and Jane married.

Ron then went to work as an accountant at a company called Josten's (the class ring place?) and attended night school to earn an MBA. He completed all of the course work for his MBA except for his final thesis when another opportunity called. (So he doesn't have an MBA because he quit?)

In 1979, Ron and Jane moved to Wisconsin, where Ron started a business called PACUR with his brother-in-law. (This self-made-man narrative is the bedrock of his campaign but as has recently come to light, entirely false. Pacur, Inc. was his brother-in-law's company, Pat Curler who named the company after himself by combining his first and last names. The company was incorporated in 1978 under its prior name "Wisconsin Industrial Shipping Supplies, Inc.," a year before Johnson moved back to Wisconsin, and became Pacur, Inc. in August of 1979. And this was not a ground-up company but rather a company created by Pat Curler that did not have to deal with the ordinary entrepreneur's struggle of finding customers. Rather, his customer base was ready-made. The company was created to supply Curwood, an international food packaging company founded by Pat's father (and thus Johnson's father-in-law), Howard Curler (who went on to become a member of the who-knew-it-existed Wisconsin Meat Industry Hall of Fame.) Ron was the accountant and a machine operator, and for most of the company's first year, (false; Johnson could not have been an accountant and machine operator for the first year of the company given that it was founded a year before he moved to Wisconsin) Ron traded 12 hour shifts with his brother-in-law until they could train other operators. (Interesting choice of words here; note, he does not say that he had to wait until the company grew enough to be able to sustain hiring more employees (as is the case with most start-ups) but only that there was a delay in training new employees.)

With the help and dedication of the fine people Ron had the privilege of working with, (and daddy-in-law's money) PACUR has grown from a company supplying a single customer (yes, daddy-in-law's company) to the largest producer in the world of a specialty plastic used in medical device packaging and high tech printing applications (put enough qualifiers in and everyone is a world leader in something). PACUR sells its products all around the world, with one of its largest export markets being China. PACUR is still proud to say: "We don't export jobs, we export plastic." (Interesting that this view did not stop Johnson from selling Pacur to a British company in 1986; Johnson later bought the company back in 1997.)  

(UPDATE September 9, 2010: As the blog Uppity Wisconsin does a good job pointing out, Johnson's claim, "We don't export jobs, we export plastic," is spurious. Although PACUR, Inc. might not have opened up new plants in China, its affiliated and related companies have. Bemis, Inc., Johnson's father-in-law's company which is currently run by Johnson's brother-in-law and in which Johnson owns a millions of dollars stock, has opened numerous plants overseas in recent years, including 3 in China. PACUR's major customers are Bemis subsidiaries one of which is Perfectseal, a company based nearby PACUR, Inc and run by another of Johnson's brothers-in-law. Perfectseal opened a new plant in China in 2008 and is a major customer of PACUR. Thus it is only through the shell game of corporate organization that PACUR's statement of not exporting jobs and exporting plastic is technically true. In reality, PACUR's affiliated companies have shipped many jobs overseas and its claims of exporting plastic to China is qualified by the fact that it is merely shipping plastic to an affiliated company that has exported American jobs overseas.

(A question I have that is not explained is, What is Johnson's connection to Rexam, a UK plastics company, that has related companies registered to do business in Wisconsin? In 2004, long after he bought PACUR back from a British company which I assume was Rexam, Johnson identified himself as President of Rexam Extrusion, Inc. on his $8,000 donation to the Wisconsin Republican Party. There is no company under the name of "Rexam Extrusion, Inc." registered with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions but based upon a review of other corporate databases appears to be located at 3555 Moser Street in Oshkosh (the same address as PACUR). Nonetheless, on his June 18, 2009, $10,000.00 campaign contribution  to Scott Walker, Johnson identified himself as an executive of Pacur. Yet later, on July 30, 2010, while running for Senate and boasting about  being the owner and president of PACUR, Johnson stated on his $10,000.00 donation to the Wisconsin Republican Party that he is the President of Rexam Extrusion, Inc. Why didn't Johnson identify PACUR as his employer on this donation? At this same time, Johnson's homemaker wife also gave $10,000.00 meaning while campaigning for the Republican Senate nomination, he's kicked at least $20,000.00 into the state Republican Party. Not surprising he got its endorsement at its convention. What is the purpose of having this separate corporate entity? Is Johnson using it as a means to skirt tax or regulatory obligations?

Ron and Jane's first daughter, Carey, was born with a serious medical condition. It was then that Ron realized that his family is the most important thing in his life, and it still is today while everything else has become secondary. With the birth of Jenna and Ben, Ron and Jane's family grew, along with the success of the business.

Ron's quiet, but extensive work within his community (Like what; see comments below for one answer) has had a deep impact. Ron has worked within the community to simply lend a helping hand to his neighbors- a value Ron learned from his parents.
Ron enjoys the outdoors, fishing, hiking, camping, Packer and Badger games, rec league softball and basketball, folk music and playing guitar. As always, Ron's family is with him every step of the way.

If Johnson's official biography contains this many misstatements and holes, who knows what would be found if the media would pay a little bit more attention to the true nature of this political hack rather than simply focusing on his nonsensical, although admittedly amusing, views on tangential issues such as that global climate change is caused by solar flares.


  1. Appreciate the research, as an Independent who usually decides just before the election. This "expose" is helpful to me.

    Let me have a little fun with your comments; just to suggest there may be a few leaps of faith in the critique.

    First, if he met his bride-to-be in high school and married her four years later, is he to be criticized for that? In the intervening years he lived at home and worked while attending college, so I don't visualize a "silver spoon" type. He married because of wealth? His bio suggests he was on a path to success in his own right. I was like him at that age, starting my own car wash business, working all the time, and National Honor Society.

    Taxes on odd jobs. There has always been a lower limit of earnings below which you owe nothing even if you report every nickel you got in cash and personal checks. If he did start paying taxes in high school, that says he wasn't just working hard enough to pay for movie dates.

    Re: the "night manager" claim, he probably wasn't technically a "manager". More likely he was the worker in charge with the obligation to contact someone if something came up out of the ordinary. They probably gave him an extra 15 cents/hour because he was a responsible sort with good judgment.

    U of Minn graduate in Accounting . College WAS actually "dirt cheap" there then for in-state students. But working and saving -- good on him.

    Yes, the class ring place, as an accountant, and if he completed all course work towards an MBA he spent at least a couple of years working there --- probably more, as a full-time employee going at night and on weekends.

    An MBA research paper isn't a "thesis" such as required for a PhD. Mine was about 50 pages; did some field interviewing of labor leaders and company officials, researched at libraries and through news sources, and banged it out in a week. No a big deal. I bailed on the graduation ceremony to start my new job, and gave up a week's potential pay by doing the research project. Maybe, as a working husband Johnson decided to just skip it, having already learned all he would in an MBA program.

    If his brother-in-law's company was a fledgling with just a couple of employees when he signed on, it is fair to say "started up"; is he laying claim to "founding" it? That would be wrong.

    As to whether Johnson did this or that during the company's "first year" depends on whether Pacur was more than a paper entity for a while, getting set up to run. The "first year" could have been "first year of operations", especially as they had to build in Oshkosh.

    30 years later, Pacur has 70-some employees. Not bad, adding 2-3 jobs a year.

    Selling to a UK firm (with Johnson continuing to run it) is nothing like "exporting jobs".

    The Rexam thing is interesting. That may have been the UK company that bought Pacur, and may have later have been part of the package when Johnson bought Pacur back. Just a possibility.

    Community involvement: "like what?" you say. Like "... presented with the Mosling Commitment to Education Award... In 2007, Johnson ... became involved in the Oshkosh Chamber’s Partners in Education (PIE) Council. His first step as a co-leader for PIE was to bring increased teacher involvement to both the Council and its leadership team. He led the Council through discussion, debate and consensus on his proposed Desired Student Outcome, which is currently the primary focus for the PIE Council.

    "Johnson is involved with Unified Catholic School System in which he developed an innovative program, the Academic Excellence Initiative, which focuses on how to teach 'more, better, easier.' His idea led to greater student learning and more time for courses in life skills, financial literacy and career awareness."

  2. Ron was born and raised in Minnesota.

    His brother is PBS Hometime host Dean Johnson:

    Since Ron never actually graduated high school, but went straight into college, I guess it could be argued that he was still in HS when he met Jane at the University of Minnesota.

  3. Really? Johnson's brother is the PBS Hometime guy? Thanks to Terry Ott and "UpchuckBaby" for their contributions in answering some of the questions above.