Tax returns and financial documents filed by Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson show the first-term Republican has disposed of securities holdings, as promised in his campaign. Instead of a blind trust, however; he and his immediate family started a non-profit charitable foundation which was gifted several large securities formerly held by Johnson. The foundation then converted the securities into cash assets, which have been the source of minor donations over the past three years – keeping much of the cash assets in tact, and in direct control of Senator Johnson.
As early as Fall 2009, Ron Johnson began appearing on the Tea Party speaking circuit. Just prior to that, on May 12, 2009; Johnson and several of his immediate family members (and one faithful campaign contributor) registered a non-profit corporation in Wisconsin – The Grammie Jean Foundation, with Ron Johnson as the Registered Agent. Examination of financial records for Johnson and the Foundation seem to confirm the intent was to help Johnson clear a path for “disposing” of potential financial conflicts in preparation for his 2010 campaign. Johnson had a great deal of work to do.
In August, 2010, it was reported by Daniel Bice that Johnson’s PACUR Corporation had changed the company’s history on its website, to eliminate controversy over a railroad grant to Johnson’s company. According to the Johnson Campaign in 2010 (from the Bice article):
“Ron Johnson moved to Wisconsin in June of 1979 and started Pacur, which has become a true Wisconsin success story,” (Johnson Campaign Website)
The only problem with Johnson’s timeline, however, was Pacur’s own website, which put its founding in 1977. It is not unusual for companies to adopt the corporate histories of their predecessors or firms they acquire, especially if it makes them look like they have deeper roots in a community. Wisconsin Industrial Shipping was owned by Johnson’s brother-in-law, Pat Curler.
But by Wednesday - voila! – Johnson’s company website had been brought in line with statements by Johnson’s campaign.
By August 2010, Johnson had been well on his way to getting his finances in order – especially securities which could pose a potential financial conflict of interest.
The 2009 Statement of Economic Interest (SEI) filed by Johnson show significant shares (among many multinationals) of Monsanto and Exxon Mobil stock (page 4 of the document). According to the 2009 form 990pf filed with the IRS, on May 5, 2009 (3 days before the corporate registration with Wisconsin DFI), Ron Johnson “gifted” the Grammie Jean Foundation 104 shares of Monsanto securities and 2,728 shares of Exxon Mobil securities with a fair market value reported as $194,069. In addition, Ron and Jane Johnson personally gifted $56,347 on the same day – May 5, 2009.
Three days later, on May 12, 2009; The Grammie Jean Foundation (being run by Johnson) sold 104 shares of Monsanto for $8,489, and 1,328 shares of Exxon Mobil for $56,137. Later that year in November (well after Johnson had started the Tea Party circuit), The Foundation sold the remaining 1,400 Exxon Mobil shares for $83,593. The total net cash assets generated from these transactions was $148,219 + $2,322 in dividends.
Tax returns show the Grammie Jean Foundation awarded only $68,500 in grants in 2009, leaving the foundation with over $130,000 in cash assets at year-end. All but one award went to out-of-state charities, primarily in Minnesota – Johnson’s home state. Badger Democracy interviewed the administrators of several of the charities who all had consistent accounts of their grants. They had been awarded the grants unsolicited; and the awards (in most cases) have been repeated in the two consecutive years of 2010, 2011.
The Directors of the Foundation are Ron Johnson, Dean Johnson (“Hometime” creator and Ron’s brother from Minnesota), Barry Johnson (Ron’s brother and PACUR officer), Dale Johnson (Ron’s father – also in Minnesota), and Lynn Bleckinger – a faithful Johnson campaign donor from Bloomington, Minnesota. The Bleckingers gave $7200 to the 2010 Johnson campaign. None of the officers report any salary from the Foundation.
Johnson’s SEI for 2010 and 2011 show a clear pattern of these large securities falling off the Senator’s investment holdings. A June 6, 2011 article in the Appleton Post-Crescent told part of the story, this quote from Johnson:
“I sold every liquid asset so there would be absolutely no chance for conflict of interest,” Johnson said in an interview Wednesday with Gannett. “Throughout the campaign, I had said I’d put money into a blind trust. Those things take so long to set up, I thought the best thing would be to turn all those (stocks) into cash and set up a blind trust in the future.”
Johnson has not set up a blind trust. The 2009 financials show that Johnson has indeed “sold every liquid asset.” It would appear that he has maintained control of the cash assets, however, through the charitable foundation he set up with his family (and donor).
It is important to point out that should the Grammie Jean Foundation dissolve (say, after Johnson leaves office); it’s assets (including cash resulting from securities sale and re-investment) could very well revert back to the registered agent – Ron Johnson. The Senator is poised to maintain complete control over his fortune from sale of securities; and hypothetically, re-invest post Senate tenure – using all the insider knowledge gained from his experience.
For the record, the Grammie Jean Foundation phone number registered with the Wisconsin DFI is that of PACUR. A PACUR spokesperson referred Badger Democracy to Senator Johnson’s office for requests to view the 2010 and 2011 990pf filings (as required by Internal Revenue Code). The Senator’s office has not yet responded to this request.
After speaking with the IRS, Badger Democracy has initiated a request with the IRS to view the financial records for Johnson’s Foundation, and will update as available.
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