TPM Takes A Closer Look At Ron Johnson’s Business Success

Candidate for U.S. Senate Ron Johnson (R-WI)
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Ron Johnson’s campaign for Wisconsin Senate is premised largely on the notion that he’s a successful businessman who knows how to create jobs.

Johnson owns a plastics company called PACUR in Oshkosh, WI. According to a recent report by the business research firm Investext, PACUR enjoyed estimated annual sales of $36 million, and employeed 100 people in 2009. His spokeswoman, Sara Sendek says it’s a bit bigger than that — about 120 employees.

With unemployment sky high, Johnson’s been able to capitalize, politically, on his success, and has been leading his opponent, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), in the polls since July. “I’m not a politician,” Johnson says in a recent ad. “I’m an accountant and a manufacturer. I know how to balance a budget, and I do know how to create jobs.’

However, Johnson’s usually mum about the fact that one of his largest clients is Bemis, a publicly traded company founded by his now-deceased father in law, and currently run by his brother in law, Jeffrey Curler.

“Certainly Ron had help and support starting his business, as many businesses do, but Ron has also worked incredibly hard in every phase of the business to make it successful,” Sendek says.

Johnson joined PACUR in 1979, to help a different brother-in-law, Pat Curler, run what had — until then — been a Curler family business. In fact, the name PACUR is the hybrid of the names Pat and Curler.

According to proxy statements Bemis filed with the SEC, “During 2009, we and our subsidiaries purchased, at market competitive prices, approximately $9.5 million of polyester and polyester copolymer products from Pacur, Inc. Ronald Johnson, brother-in-law of Jeffrey H. Curler, is President of Pacur, Inc. Mr. Curler is Chairman of the Board of the Company and our Executive Chairman.”

Bemis has made similar, major purchases every year going back years, ranging in size from $6.1 million (in 1998) to $12.6 million (in 2006).

Sendek says that Bemis now constitutes less than 10 percent of PACUR’s business. The Investext numbers imply more than that, but in any case, Sendek says, “they would still be viable without it.”

But it wasn’t always that way.

According to Johnson’s campaign bio, “With the help and dedication of the fine people Ron had the privilege of working with, PACUR has grown from a company supplying a single customer to the largest producer in the world of a specialty plastic used in medical device packaging and high tech printing applications.”

That single customer? Bemis. Or, rather, the company that became Bemis according to The Northwesterner.

Sendek says that in the years since, PACUR has done business with about 1700 clients in 25 countries.

Broadly speaking, Johnson’s company extrudes rolls of rigid polyester and sells those rolls to Bemis, which further converts them and sells them all to medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies

One source with knowledge of the plastics industry in the Midwest questions why Bemis even needs to contract out to PACUR for the plastics. “Why in the world would a company like Bemis not have the technology?” the source asked. “They could make a better film today.”

Johnson’s critics have argued that these details belie the image Johnson is trying to create for himself of an up-by-the-bootstraps entrepreneur. If Johnson wins anyhow, he’ll join several dozen other members of the Senate who’ve had a leg up in life. The TPM Poll Average gives Johnson a 52.2-44.0 lead over Feingold, one of the Senate’s most liberal members. If Johnson wins, it will likely constitute the most dramatic single-seat swing from left to right of the entire cycle.

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