Wisconsin Dems request ethics probe of Johnson

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin wants the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate $10 million in compensation that Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold Johnson15 Senate Republicans pledge to oppose lifting earmark ban 'Real Housewives of the GOP' — Wannabe reality show narcissists commandeer the party Republicans fret over divisive candidates MORE (R-Wis) received from his former company.  

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"The Committee should immediately investigate these apparent violations. Specifically, the Committee should demand that Senator Johnson disclose the 'deferred compensation agreement,'" the group wrote in the letter. "Senator Johnson must be held accountable for his $10 million corporate payout." 

The state Democratic Party — which is working to unseat Johnson in the November election — argues the $10 million payment was an attempt "to get around" federal campaign rules. Corporations are banned from contributing directly to state or federal campaigns.

"There is no evidence that PACUR had a preexisting policy, with objective criteria, to determine whether executives would receive compensation upon their departure or the amount of that compensation," the group adds in the letter.  

Johnson spent $9 million of his own money on his successful 2010 election bid. The letter comes as the Wisconsin Republican will face former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) in a rematch in November. Feingold is currently leading Johnson in the race by an average of nearly 10 percentage points, according to RealClearPolitics.  

Brian Reisinger, a spokesman for Johnson's campaign, said he "followed the law and disclosed his back pay five years ago."

"Senator Feingold is obviously trying to distract from his wide-open email scandal with the State Department over allegations he broke federal law with his shadow campaign," he added. "[He] is failing to prove he hasn’t broken the law, and meantime is hiding behind the State Department, just like Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPelosi on power in DC: 'You have to seize it' Cuba readies for life without Castro Chelsea Clinton: Pics of Trump getting vaccinated would help him 'claim credit' MORE.”

Democrats for years have hounded Johnson over the payment, which was reported in a 2011 Senate financial disclosure form.

Kory Kozloski, the executive director of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, said in a statement that the "golden parachute likely violated federal election law." 

"Wisconsinites have a right to know if their state’s senior senator broke the law. He needs to release any and all documentation about his deferred compensation package immediately. Any more delays will raise more questions," he added. 

Johnson has repeatedly defended the payment, arguing it was deferred compensation after he didn't take a salary while running PACUR, a polyester and plastics manufacturer.

William Allison, a spokesman for Johnson's campaign, told PolitiFact earlier this month that the company "followed standard business practices to settle the account and independently calculate the back pay." The payment was reviewed as part of an IRS audit, and the IRS "took no issue with it," he said. 

PolitiFact also rated a Feingold ad from earlier this year that called the money a "sweetheart corporate payout" as "half true" because "there’s no evidence to show this payment was unusual or out of line."

The potential probe into Johnson's compensation comes as Democrats are battling to regain control of the Senate and view Wisconsin as a prime pickup opportunity. 

Republicans are defending 24 Senate seats in November, including a handful in states previously carried by President Obama. Democrats need to net five seats — or four if they also retain the White House — to reclaim the majority. 

--This report was updated at 11:59 a.m.