Ron Johnson (Wisconsin politician)

Ronald Harold Johnson (born April 8, 1955) is an American businessman and politician serving as the senior United States Senator for Wisconsin. He is a member of the Republican party. Johnson was first elected to the Senate in 2010, defeating Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold and re-elected in 2016, again defeating Feingold. Before politics, Johnson was chief executive officer of a polyester and plastics manufacturer founded by his brother-in-law.[2]

Ron Johnson
Ron Johnson, official portrait, 112th Congress.jpg
United States Senator
from Wisconsin
Assumed office
January 3, 2011
Serving with Tammy Baldwin
Preceded byRuss Feingold
Chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee
Assumed office
January 3, 2015
Preceded byTom Carper
Personal details
Ronald Harold Johnson

(1955-04-08) April 8, 1955 (age 65)
Mankato, Minnesota, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Jane Johnson
(m. 1977)
EducationUniversity of Minnesota (BS)
Net worth$10.4 million (2018)[1]
WebsiteSenate website

Early life and education

Johnson was born in Mankato, Minnesota, the son of Jeanette Elizabeth (née Thisius) and Dale Robert Johnson. His father was of Norwegian descent and his mother was of German ancestry.[3] While growing up, Johnson delivered newspapers, worked as a caddy at a golf course, baled hay on his uncle's dairy farm, and worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant.[4] He attended the University of Minnesota while working full-time and graduated in 1977 with a degree in business and accounting. He continued studying until 1979 but did not receive a graduate degree.[5]

Business career

In 1979, Johnson moved to Wisconsin with his wife, Jane. They both started working with Jane's brother, Pat Curler, at his custom sheet extruder company. The company was named PACUR; the name is an abbreviation of “Pat Curler”. Curler created the company with funding from his and Jane's father, Howard Curler. Howard Curler had been named CEO of the plastics giant Bemis Company in 1978, and for the first several years of PACUR's existence, Bemis was the company's only customer.[6]

For nearly a year, Johnson worked as the accountant and as a machine operator at PACUR. He traded 12-hour shifts with his brother-in-law, with whom he also shared a small cot. The company later expanded into the area of medical device packaging, which involved hiring salespeople and exporting products to other countries. In the mid-1980s, Pat Curler left PACUR and Johnson became CEO of the company. In 1987, the Curler family sold PACUR to Bowater Industries for $18 million; Johnson continued as the company's CEO following the sale. In 1997, Johnson purchased PACUR from Bowater; he remained the company's CEO until he was elected to the Senate in 2010.[7]

U.S. Senate


Johnson speaking in February 2011.

The 2010 U.S. Senate campaign was Johnson's first run for elected office. He was described as a "political blank slate" because he had no history of campaigning or holding office.[8] Johnson attracted the attention of the Tea Party movement when he gave two emotional speeches at Tea Party rallies. According to The New York Times, Johnson said he "did kind of spring out of the Tea Party" and is glad to be associated with it,[9] although he did not join the Senate Tea Party Caucus following his election.[10]

In the September 14, 2010 Republican primary, Johnson, running a largely self-financed campaign,[11] defeated Watertown businessman Dave Westlake. Johnson won 85% of the vote, with 10% going to Westlake and the remaining 5% going to Stephen Finn.[12][13]

As a candidate, Johnson opposed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. He launched his campaign by telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the United States "would have been far better off not spending any of the money and [letting] the recovery happen as it was going to happen." The newspaper later reported that the education council Johnson led considered applying for stimulus money in 2009, but ultimately elected not to do so. The Johnson campaign stated that nonprofits consider "many possibilities," but that the council "made no application" for stimulus funds.[14]

Johnson's 2010 Senate campaign raised a total of $15.2 million, $9 million of which was his own money.[15][16] In June 2011, Johnson's financial disclosures showed that PACUR, the company where he served as CEO until elected to the Senate, had paid him $10 million in deferred compensation in early 2011. The compensation covered the period from 1997 to 2011 during which he took no salary from PACUR. Johnson said that he, as CEO, had personally determined the dollar amount and that the amount was unrelated to the contributions he had given to his campaign.[17][18]

In the November 2, 2010, general election, Johnson defeated Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold with 52% of the vote.[19]

After being elected to the Senate, Johnson claimed that he sold his liquid assets to avoid a conflict of interest and also promised to place his assets in a blind trust.[20][21]


In March 2013, Johnson announced that he would seek re-election in 2016. In November 2014, he was again endorsed by the fiscally conservative Club for Growth;[22] that month, he said he would not self-finance his re-election bid.[11] In December 2014, the Washington Post rated Johnson the most vulnerable incumbent US Senator in the 2016 election cycle.[23] In May 2015, former Democratic U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, whom Johnson had defeated in 2010, announced he would run to win the Senate seat back.[24]

In the November 8, 2016, general election, Johnson won his re-election bid against Feingold with 50.2% of the vote.[25]

Committee assignments

Political positions

Environment and energy

In a 2010 interview, Johnson called scientists who attribute global warming to man-made causes "crazy", saying the theory is "lunacy" and attributing climate change to causes other than human activity.[26] In August 2015, Johnson said that "the climate hasn't warmed in quite a few years. That is proven scientifically."[27] In February 2016, Johnson said "I've never denied climate change. The climate has always changed, and it always will".[28] Johnson is a cosponsor of the Energy Tax Prevention Act, which would block the EPA from imposing new rules on carbon emissions.[29]

When asked about allowing additional drilling for oil in the continental US, including the Great Lakes if oil was to be found there, Johnson responded: "We have to get the oil where it is, but we need to do it responsibly. We need to utilize American ingenuity and American technology to make sure we do it environmentally sensitively and safely." After criticism from the Feingold campaign, Johnson said in July 2010 that his answer did not mean he supported drilling in the Great Lakes.[30]


In January 2018, Johnson said that he had an informant with information that the FBI and Department of Justice had conspired against Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election; Johnson described it as a "secret society" and said that there was "corruption at the highest levels of the FBI".[31] The same day, he walked back the comments.[32]

In February 2018, Johnson suggested that a text message between FBI agent Peter Strzok and Lisa Page raised questions about “the type and extent of President Obama's personal involvement” in the Clinton emails investigation.[33] However, the text message from September 2016, which said "Potus wants to know everything we're doing", referred to the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, not the Clinton emails investigation which had concluded months earlier.[33]

In April 2019, Johnson defended President Trump referring to FBI agents as "scum".[34] Johnson said "I think there's a proven fact there was definitely corruption at the highest levels of the FBI."[34]

Fiscal issues

During the Obama presidency, Johnson proposed limiting federal spending in order to reduce the deficit, and was active in attempting to drive consensus on fiscal issues between Republicans in the Senate and the House. He was involved in the deals to raise the debt ceiling in July 2011 and January 2013.[10] Despite projections of a 1 trillion dollar increase in the national debt over 10 years, Johnson voted for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.[35][36]

Johnson said that the 2011 debate over whether to increase the US debt ceiling presented an opportunity to establish hard caps on federal spending.[37] He argued that Congress could not keep raising the debt limit, and needed to prioritize spending.[38] Johnson called for open negotiations over the debt ceiling, saying that the closed-door talks were "outrageous" and "disgusting." He said that default should not have been a concern, because the government had plenty of funding to pay interest on debt, Social Security benefits, and salary for soldiers.[39]

In January 2013, Johnson voted for the fiscal cliff agreement that reduced pending tax increases and delayed spending cuts that were precipitated by the 2011 debt ceiling deal.[10]

Johnson has opposed increased government spending and the federal stimulus. He has supported broad reduction in federal tax rates, simplifying regulations on business and free-market health care options.[40] When asked if Johnson would get rid of home mortgage interest deductions (claiming mortgage interest as a tax-deductible expense), he said he "wouldn't rule it out" as part of an effort to lower taxes and simplify the tax code.[41]

Despite his prior stances on limiting the federal deficit, Johnson voted in favor of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act,[42] which the Congressional Budget Office found would add $242 billion to the federal budget deficit in 2018 and would result in the annual deficit topping $1 trillion in two years and rising to $1.5 trillion by 2028.[43][44]

Gun policy

Johnson is a strong supporter of gun rights. He is cosponsor of S.570, a bill that, if passed, would prohibit the Department of Justice from tracking and cataloging the purchases of multiple rifles and shotguns.[45] In April 2013, Johnson was one of twelve Republican Senators who signed a letter threatening to filibuster any newly introduced gun control legislation.[46] That month, Johnson joined forty-five other Senators in defeating the Manchin-Toomey Amendment, which would have required background checks on all sales of guns, including between individuals.[47]

Health care

Johnson opposes the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and has voted to repeal it.[48] During a radio interview in August 2017, Johnson said the following about John McCain's "thumbs-down" vote that ultimately killed Republicans' Obamacare repeal bill, "He has a brain tumor right now, the vote occurred at 1:30 in the morning, so some of that might have factored in."[49] A McCain spokesman called the statements "bizarre and deeply unfortunate." Johnson later stated that he was "disappointed I didn't more eloquently express my sympathy for what Sen. McCain is going through."[50]

In early 2014, Johnson criticized the ability of Congress to continue using pre-tax employer contributions to help pay for their medical care, rather than being subject to the full text of the Affordable Care Act that the rest of the nation must follow.[51] Johnson initiated a lawsuit against the Obama Administration offering ACA exemptions to members of Congress and their staff.[51] "I really do believe that the American people expect, and they have every right to expect, that members of Congress, the political class here in Washington, should be fully subject to all of the rules, all the laws that Congress imposes on the rest of America...", Johnson said.[51] In July 2014, a court ruled that the Senator did not have standing and dismissed the case. In April 2015, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit also said Johnson lacked legal standing to bring the case forward.[52][53]

Johnson has declined to support efforts to tie funding the federal government with defunding Obamacare, stating: "Even if we were to not pass the continuing resolution [to fund the federal government], you're not going to be able to defund Obamacare, absent of President Obama signing a law, which I think is highly unlikely."[54]

COVID-19 pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Johnson voted against the Families First Coronavirus Response Act which passed the Senate on March 18, 2020 by a vote of 90–8.[55] In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Johnson said he is aware "what a nasty disease COVID-19 can be, and how it's obviously devastating to somewhere between 1 and 3.4 percent of the population... [b]ut we don't shut down our economy because tens of thousands of people die on the highways. It's a risk we accept so we can move about. We don't shut down our economies because tens of thousands of people die from the common flu". His comments were met with criticism that he was "playing down" the threat of COVID-19, and Johnson responded by explaining he was "just trying to look at this very realistically".[56]

COVID-19 exposure

On October 3, 2020, Senator Johnson announced he had tested positive for COVID-19.[57] After exposure on September 14, Senator Johnson was in quarantine September 14 through September 28. He tested negative twice during the quarantine and returned to political life[vague] on September 29. He was asymptomatic but later testing was positive and he returned to isolation,[58] though while awaiting the COVID-19 test result, the Senator attended a fundraising event.[57]


Johnson supported President Trump's decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which he stated was unconstitutional and "created incentives for children from Central America to take great risks to enter America illegally." Trump's decision made eligible for deportation, following a six-month waiting period, the approximately 800,000 unauthorized immigrants who entered the country as minors and who had temporary permission to stay in the country.[59]

Joe Biden

In September 2020, after having for months boasted that he was undertaking an investigation that would demonstrate Joe Biden's "unfitness for office", Johnson released a report which found no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden in relation to Ukraine. Johnson's report reiterated allegations which have remained unproven, and many of which had been part of Russian disinformation campaigns.[60]

In October 2020, Johnson said that Biden supporters "don’t particularly love America."[61]


In July 2011, Johnson introduced a bill that would impose a moratorium on significant new federal regulations until the national unemployment level falls to 7.7 percent – just below where it was when President Obama took office.[62]

Senate rules

Johnson is one of the Senate Republicans arguing in favor of the "nuclear option", "to speed up consideration of President Trump's nominees". Changing the Senate's rules to a simple majority vote would "ensure a quicker pace on Trump's court picks".[63]

Social issues

Johnson opposes abortion except in cases of incest, rape, or when the mother's life is in danger.[64][65] He opposes the funding of research that uses embryonic stem cells. Johnson has stated he disagrees with it morally and also has said that eliminating the funding of the research would help balance the federal budget.[66]

In March 2015, Johnson voted for an amendment to establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund to allow employees to earn paid sick time.[67]

Statute of limitations for sex abuse lawsuits

In January 2010, prior to holding elective office, Johnson opposed a Wisconsin bill that would have eliminated the time limit for future child sex abuse victims to bring lawsuits while allowing an additional three years for past victims to sue.[68] Johnson testified before the Wisconsin Senate that "punishment for the actual perpetrators should be severe," but questioned whether it would be just for employers of perpetrators to be severely financially damaged or destroyed by lawsuits.[69] He added that the bill, if enacted, might actually reduce the reporting of child sex abuse.[8][68] At the time of his testimony, Johnson was on the Finance Council of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Green Bay.[8][68] In June 2010 he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "I can't think of a penalty that would be too harsh for these guys"[8] and in late September 2010, Johnson indicated that the legislation would have financially crippled organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs and that the punishment for child sex abuse should be "severe and swift."[68] He also sought to address reports about his testimony, saying “I sought to warn legislators of those consequences in order to correct legislative language so that any bills that passed would punish the perpetrators and those that protect them, not honorable organizations that do so much good for our communities. We must rid our society of people who prey on children.”[70]


In November 2018, Johnson was one of twelve Republican senators to sign a letter to President Trump requesting the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement be submitted to Congress by the end of the month to allow a vote on it before the end of the year as they were concerned "passage of the USMCA as negotiated will become significantly more difficult" if having to be approved through the incoming 116th United States Congress.[71]

Donald Trump

Volodymyr Zelensky 2019 presidential inauguration with U.S. delegation; Sen. Johnson (far right)

Johnson became an important figure in the 2019 controversy surrounding U.S. aid to Ukraine. Johnson joined the U.S. delegation at the inauguration of the new president of Ukraine in May with National Security Council official, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, and the "Three Amigos" (U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and then-special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker).[72] In August 2019, Sondland told Johnson that military aid for Ukraine was linked to President Donald Trump's push for Ukraine to investigate the origins of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe.[73] In October 2019, amid the impeachment inquiry into Trump, Johnson asserted that Trump had told him in August that he might withhold aid to the Ukraine "because of alleged corruption involving the 2016 U.S. election. Johnson stood by the president, saying he was sympathetic to his concerns and didn't see any bad motives on his part".[74] Johnson has said that he asked Trump if the aid to Ukraine was linked to the launch of the Biden investigation. According to Johnson, Trump replied that it was not; he asked Johnson who had given him this information. Johnson replied that it was Sondland, and Trump asserted that "he barely knew him."[75] In November 2019, at the request of House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes and temporary member Jim Jordan, Johnson provided a detailed timeline of his involvement with the Ukraine situation.[75] In February 2016, Johnson had been one of eight senators who signed a letter to then Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, urging reforms in the office of the Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin.[76] On October 3, 2019, Johnson told reporters he did not recall signing the letter, which contradicts Trump's allegations that Biden had improperly pushed for Shokin's removal.[77] That same day, Johnson also said that there was nothing wrong with Trump asking China, in October 2019, to start an investigation into 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Biden and his son,[78] although there is no evidence of any wrong-doing by the Bidens in China.[78] Johnson has been one of the few Republican Senators to defend Donald Trump's efforts to get Ukraine and China to investigate Biden (then, a potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate) and his son.[79] Sondland told the House Intelligence Committee, "I shared concerns of the potential quid pro quo regarding the security aid with Senator Ron Johnson."[80] Johnson went to the inauguration of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. Meeting later with Trump, he also discussed Zelensky and the aid to Ukraine which Trump had withheld, urging him to release it. He approached Trump subsequent to being informed by a U.S. diplomat that its release was contingent on Ukraine's willingness to conduct investigations Trump sought regarding the 2016 elections. He said he was disturbed by any linkage of the actions or the existence of a "quid pro quo" but became satisfied after Trump had personally denied to him that the release was tied to political investigations. On November 26, however, it would be reported by The New York Times that Trump had been briefed about a whistleblower complaint involving a quid pro quo before releasing the withheld military aid to Ukraine.[81]

The senator also met in 2019 with Ukraine diplomat Andrii Telizhenko regarding the meme that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.[82] Johnson has promoted conspiracy theories that the FBI and CIA have sabotaged President Trump.[83][84][85] In November 2019, Johnson suggested that Colonel Vindman, who testified about Trump's phone call to the Ukrainian president, may have participated in efforts to oppose Trump's policies and remove him from office, saying it was "entirely possible."[86] Michael Volkov, Vindman's lawyer, characterized Johnson's attack as, "such a baseless accusation, so ridiculous on its face, that it doesn’t even warrant a response."[87] Vindman was brought to the U.S. with his identical twin brother by their widowed father when they were three years old. He is a decorated veteran from the Iraq war, including having received a Purple Heart after being wounded in an IED blast. He is fluent in Russian and Ukrainian.[88][89][90][91] He was previously posted to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.[92] The Washington Post noted that "Johnson's letter intensified a campaign of attacks on Vindman from Trump and his allies, which has included speculation about the decorated war veteran's patriotism from conservative commentators and a White House statement on Friday criticizing his job performance."[93]

Johnson criticized Trump for firing Gordon Sondland, calling Sondland "a patriot".[94] After Trump fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick and replaced him with an ally, Johnson said, "I'm not crying big crocodile tears over this termination."[95]

Electoral history

Wisconsin U.S. Senate Republican primary 2010[13]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ron Johnson 500,925 84.7%
Republican Dave Westlake 61,303 10.4%
Republican Stephen Finn 29,005 4.9%
Wisconsin U.S. Senate election 2010
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ron Johnson 1,125,999 51.86%
Democratic Russ Feingold (incumbent) 1,020,958 47.02%
Republican gain from Democratic
Wisconsin U.S. Senate election 2016[96]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ron Johnson 1,479,262 50.2%
Democratic Russ Feingold 1,380,496 46.8%
Libertarian Phil Anderson 87,531 3.0%
Republican hold

Personal life

Johnson and his wife, Jane, have three children, all of whom are graduates of the University of Wisconsin.[97] He is a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.[98]

During his time in the Senate, Johnson has endorsed the Joseph Project. The Joseph Project helps unemployed persons in the Milwaukee area (some of whom have criminal records) find jobs and provides them with training in soft skills. Johnson has encouraged local companies to hire "graduates" of the program.[99]


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External links

Party political offices
Preceded by
Tim Michels
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Wisconsin
(Class 3)

2010, 2016
Most recent
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Russ Feingold
U.S. senator (Class 3) from Wisconsin
Served alongside: Herb Kohl, Tammy Baldwin
Preceded by
Tom Carper
Chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Marco Rubio
United States Senators by seniority
Succeeded by
Rand Paul