Ron Johnson vacation home in Fort Meyers
Sen. Ron Johnson is facing criticism for getting reimbursed an undisclosed amount for flights from his Florida vacation home. (Photo of Sen. Johnson via AP/Andrew Harnik. Photo of Johnson's vacation home via Lee County Property Appraiser. Photo of Page Field via Lee County Port Authority.)

In 2020, the Republican senator was criticized for using private jets for DC trips, even as he railed against COVID safeguards as “hysteria.”

[This story has been updated with information about the private planes owned by Johnson’s children.]

The US Senate Ethics Committee is being asked to look into how Republican Sen. Ron Johnson has been using taxpayer funds to fly between his Florida vacation home and Washington, DC. A complaint was filed Wednesday by a constituent following a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report that said Johnson had billed taxpayers for 19 flights over an eight-year period.

Johnson bought the $1.6 million vacation home eight years ago.

The constituent, Claudia Pogreba of Madison, noted “Senator Johnson first used government funds to pay for travel from Fort Myers just one month after the Senator’s family was apparently involved in the purchase of a vacation property in Fort Myers.”

A Johnson spokesperson, Alexa Henning, told a Journal Sentinel reporter that the senator’s flights were in accordance with Senate rules that cover flights back to Washington from a location other than their “duty station,” usually their primary home.

The issue, however, may come down to whether flights from the Florida property, purchased by an affiliate of the Johnson family trust, cost the same or less than a comparable flight from his home in Oshkosh. The newspaper report said the exact costs of the Florida flights could not be determined because the reimbursements were lumped in with other expenses—but that the tab was somewhere between $5,418 and $18,781.

Opportunity Wisconsin, a progressive group speaking out about Johnson’s record, called the vacation home flight reimbursements a “blatant use of tax dollars” that breaks Senate ethics rules, and said that Johnson should reimburse taxpayers.

“While Wisconsin families are struggling to make ends meet, one of the richest members of Congress, ‘Florida Man’ Ron Johnson, is asking us to foot the bill for his vacation travel,” said Miranda Stark, Opportunity Wisconsin deputy program director. “Senator Johnson has doubled his wealth while in office, yet he has the audacity to think Wisconsinites should be paying for his vacation travel. If Senator Johnson wants to visit his mansion in Florida, he should pay for his own travel.” 

Earlier: Ron Johnson Addresses Criticism About His Wealth Doubling and His Tax Break Helping His Business—Saying Both Are True

The Journal Sentinel report included reaction from attorney Jacquelyn Lopez with the Elias law firm in Washington.

“The rules are clear,” Lopez said. “A senator may not use taxpayer dollars to fund personal travel to or from a family vacation home.  As a matter of federal law and Senate ethics rules, senators may only use official funds for travel that is essential to the transaction of official business.”

This is not the first time Johnson has come under scrutiny for the way he travels to and from the nation’s capital. From May to October 2020, in the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Johnson made at least 14 trips on private jets that appear to be owned by his children. During that time, Johnson was criticized as “a hypocrite of the highest degree” for taking private jets—an option not available to most Americans—even as one of the Senate’s wealthiest members was describing public concern about the coronavirus as “hysteria.”

The Embraer-Phenom-100EV in a typical cabin layout. (Embraer website)

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in October 2020 about the jet owned by Howard Air, a company owned by Johnson’s three adult children. Johnson then leased the plane from his children’s company. 

The Embraer Phenom 100EV was unveiled during the EAA AirVenture Fly-In and Convention held in July 2016, according to industry publication Aerospace Technology. Embraer described it as having “a spacious cabin equipped with latest technologies and new seating configurations. It has the capacity to accommodate six occupants in the standard configuration and can carry up to eight occupants when installed with additional seating. Designed by Embraer and BMW Designworks, the Oval Lite cabin offers more head and leg space along with improved ergonomics and comfort for passengers.  Customers can choose from a range of cabin finish options available in 11 color pallets.”

Records show the jet was sold about one month after the news report about its use by Johnson.  

Howard Air currently owns two fixed-wing planes, according to FlightAware. One is a 2019 Pilatus PC-12, an 11-seater single-engine plane, with a current average value ranging from $4.2 – $7.2 million.

The Pilatus PC-24, self-described as a “Super Versatile Jet.” (Pilatus website)

The other is a 2021 Pilatus PC-24, a nine-seater multi-engine jet described by its maker as “like a penthouse on the 5,000th floor.”