Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ron Johnson found himself under the political microscope late last week after it was revealed that he owns up to $315,000 in BP stock while he has defended the oil giant against its critics and called for continued offshore drilling.
The Wisconsin businessman -- who is vying, in a closer-than-expected contest, for Sen. Russ Feingold's (D-Wisc.) seat -- has spent the last few weeks trying to temper criticism of BP in the wake of the Gulf spill. Johnson, whom national Democrats like to refer to as the "forgotten Tea Party candidate," has expressed disappointment with the administration's "assault" on BP. At the same time, he's been a vocal advocate for continued and even accelerated oil and gas exploration, going so far as to express an openness to drilling in the Great Lakes.
"The bottom line is we are an oil-based economy," he told the site WisPolitics in mid-June, when asked about drilling in the Great Lakes. "There's nothing we're gonna do to get off of that for many, many years. I think we have to be realistic and recognize that fact and, you know, I, I think we have to, get the oil where it is, but we have to do it where it is."
Those comments and many others make Johnson among the most pro-drilling pols in a Republican Party filled with drilling proponents. But in offering his support for the practice, Johnson didn't reveal that he has serious financial stakes in the continued sucess of BP and the greater oil and gas industry.
On Friday, Johnson filed financial disclosure reports showing that he owns stock in BP worth between $116,000 and $315,000. In addition, he holds stock in Exxon Mobil with a value between $50,000 and $101,000 and stock in Occidental Petroleum worth between $15,000 and $50,000.
How this information didn't surface earlier in the debate over drilling is sort of fascinating. After all, the crisis in the Gulf -- and Johnson's defense of offshore drilling -- has been going on for well over two months. The apparent conflict of interest didn't just suddenly appear.
The Johnson campaign insists that the stocks are just one aspect of a larger financial portfolio; hardly the type of earnings that would persuade or affect his policy positions. But that's a tough sell with voters, who likely don't think of $315,000 as chump change. Not surprisingly, on Monday the Wisconsin Democratic Party is hosting a conference call with reporters to hammer Johnson on this most recent disclosure.