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John Brunner, Republican Senate Candidate In Missouri, Touts Business Experience

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John Brunner (R-Mo.) owner and operator of Vi-Jon since 1992. He sold his family business in 2006.
John Brunner (R-Mo.) owner and operator of Vi-Jon since 1992. He sold his family business in 2006.

John Brunner is running for Senate on his business credentials, something the Missouri Republican says too many congressional lawmakers lack.

Brunner is one of three Republicans facing off in the Aug. 7 Republican primary election for a chance against Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill. This is his first time running for elected office.

"Far too few people in Washington, D.C., know how to grow a business, how to expand," Brunner told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He uses his family business, Vi-Jon, as a rubric for his success in office. The company supplies big-name retailers, such as Target and Walmart, with everyday items at bargain prices, the same products that wear the stores' labels.

Brunner joined Vi-Jon in 1978. By the time his father retired, in 1992, the company needed a boost. "I thought, I gotta make this work," Brunner told the paper. "So I brought in some people with MBA backgrounds and a lot of titles behind their names." Those advisers opened a second factory, but the venture went south and Brunner then had to sell the plant to pay off the company's $35 million debt.

The company grew its annual sales from $23 million in 1994 to $300 million by 2006, when Brunner sold it, giving majority ownership to Berkshire Partners, the private equity firm. When asked by the Post-Dispatch how much he made in the deal, he responded, "I don't know what the number was."

Brunner got out at the right time; Vi-Jon subsequently went into debt to the tune of $245 million. Brunner and his wife, however, have assets worth between $25.5 million and $108 million, according to his financial disclosure forms, which are required from all U.S. Senate candidates.

Yet compared to his competitors, Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) and former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman, Brunner had not raised a significant amount of money coming into July. He had $183,000 on hand, while his opponents Akin and Steelman had $1.4 million and $562,000 respectively, according to the Associated Press.

His campaign spent $2.8 million last quarter, mostly on political ads, with over $2 million coming from Brunner's own pocket. Akin and Steelman spent approximately $279,000 each on their own campaigns.

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