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Johnson's company got government loan

By Capitol Bureau Chief Bob Schaper - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

MADISON (WKOW) - Read Senate candidate Ron Johnson's online biography and you'll learn he was born "in a family and place where one of the greatest compliments you could give a person was to say that he or she was a hard worker."

But where was that place? And when was he born? Nowhere does it say. And the rest is vague too. Like here, where he mentions he graduated from college debt free, but he doesn't say what college.

During our interview at his Oshkosh factory last week Johnson emphasized his work ethic.

"In terms of what my background is, I have worked all my life," Johnson said. "From a young kid I shoveled snow, I mowed lawns, had a paper route, I caddied."

Johnson, 55, grew up in Mankato, Minn., south of the Twin Cities. He attended Edina High School but he did not graduate, saying he was told by officials there that he could go straight to college.

According to school records he did graduate with distinction from the University of Minnesota in 1977 with an accounting degree. Through it all he continued to work.

"I started working when I was 15 at Walgreens as a dishwasher, soda jerk, fry cook...."

In 1979, he and his wife, Jane, moved to Oshkosh, where Johnson began his long career at Pacur, a plastics manufacturing company. Whether or not he started Pacur, as his bio says, is a matter of semantics.

Technically Pacur was incorporated by Pat Curler, Johnson's brother-in-law, a year before Johnson moved to Wisconsin. In those days it was called Wisconsin Industrial Shipping Supplies, located in New London.

The company moved to Oshkosh and began making plastics the same year Johnson relocated. It also changed its name to Pacur, named after Curler. Johnson insists that he had an ownership stake in the new factory from the very beginning.

In the 1980s the company expanded through the help of a $2.5 million government bond issued by the city of Oshkosh - a bond that charged below-market interest rates.

Today Johnson rails against government subsidies, saying they go against the free-enterprise system.

"I'm in business," he said. "I have never lobbied for some special treatment or for a government payment."

In 1986 Curler and Johnson sold the company to a multinational firm called Bowater. Johnson stayed on as general manager and bought the company back in 1997.

And though he owns the company by himself now, it's still a family affair of sorts. According to S.E.C. filings, Pacur sold $124 million in goods and services to Bemis Company, whose CEO is Jeffrey Curler, another Johnson brother-in-law.

"How I'm kind of approaching the campaign is as if I'm applying for a job," Johnson said. "I'm interviewing for a job with the voters of Wisconsin."

Late this afternoon the Johnson campaign sent a one-sentence response to our story, saying the sort of bond issued by Oshkosh is neither special treatment nor a government payment or subsidy.

They also say the loan was paid back in full.

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