Darren Richardson

Oct. 19, 2011

NEW YORK - Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson believes that the distinction needs to be made between capitalism and crony capitalism, and the sooner the better.

On Tuesday evening, when seven other Republican presidential candidates were trading verbal jabs on a stage in Las Vegas as CNN’s Anderson Cooper succeeded in pushing all the right hot buttons, Johnson was talking with participants in the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City.

Johnson, who was not invited to Las Vegas even though former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman did not participate in the debate, told bloggers and reporters in a conference call Wednesday that the Occupy protesters were justifiably outraged at Wall Street getting preferential treatment from a government that grants favors to well-connected individuals, groups and corporations instead of passing legislation that is fair to everyone.

“I just have to express my solidarity with everyone there that expresses the notion that we have a country that doles it out unfairly, and I believe that,” Johnson said. "We do dole it out unfairly…corporatism is alive and well in this country. We’ve bailed out individuals on Wall Street that made horrific decisions that should have been rewarded for those horrific decisions by having lost all their money. Of course that didn’t happen, and you and I bailed them out a cost of a trillion bucks, and they continue to award themselves bonuses at our expense. I’m outraged by that.”

Johnson said that during his time among the protesters Tuesday evening, he had “civil conversations” with people of all political persuasions, including communists and socialists and “free market anarchists.” He told them that it is important for people to understand the distinction between capitalism and crony capitalism.

“Is the free market to blame (for the current economic troubles), or is it that fact that it’s not a free market and that it is crony capitalism?”

He said that no one could blame Wall Street for wanting to be bailed out for the awful decisions made there, but the way that the government gave in to their wishes was really unfair. “The root of the problem,” Johnson said, “is politicians getting paid off." He said the outrage of the Wall Street protesters is not misguided and should be “directed at a system that allows for undue influence of political leaders for the benefit of those who can afford them.”

The Citizens United decision and campaign financing

In response to a later question about the rise of powerful “Super PACs” that came about as result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 Citizen United decision, Johnson said the problem is one of transparency, not one of unlimited contributions by persons or corporations.

“I absolutely believe that the reform that’s needed when it comes to campaign contributions is 100 percent transparency, and these Super PACs offer up non-transparency. Super PACs offer up a way for a wealthy individual or corporation to contribute money or to influence an election without their fingerprints on it, and that’s not right. I don’t have any issues with unlimited contributions as long as it is completely transparent.”

Critical of Obama over medical marijuana dispensaries

Johnson, a vocal proponent of cannabis/marijuana legalization, took heart in a recent Gallup Poll which found that for the first time since polling began on the subject, 50 percent of all Americans now support the legalization of cannabis/marijuana.

As president, he said he would do everything he could to “defang” the DEA and would issue an executive order reclassifying cannabis/marijuana as a Schedule II drug, which would effectively end the federal prohibition on medical marijuana.

Johnson also criticized the Obama administration for its recent shift in policy on medical marijuana in California, saying that the stated intention of the federal government to shut down dispensaries makes “absolutely no sense whatsoever,” especially in light of Obama’s explicit promise when he ran for president that he would not shut down dispensaries.

Referencing Johnson’s statement that as president, he would reschedule cannabis/marijuana so it could legally return to the U.S. pharmacopeia, The Punditty Project asked Johnson if he had researched the idea of a full presidential pardon for all non-violent marijuana offenders, including Marc Emery, who is now serving the remainder of a five-year federal sentence for selling seeds.

While not familiar with the specifics of the Emery case, Johnson expressed support for pardons after the repeal of cannabis/marijuana prohibition, which began in 1937.

“After prohibition of alcohol was repealed, one of the untold stories was all the pardons that went out for all those individuals that had been convicted or were serving jail sentences for trading in alcohol,” Johnson noted. “I think that same phenomenon accompanies legalizing marijuana and what I call ‘rational drug policy,’ which starts by looking at the drug problem or the drug issue first as a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue.”

Submitting a balanced budget in 2013

Johnson reiterated his pledge to submit a balanced budget to Congress in 2013 and said he would veto all legislation where spending exceeded revenue. He said he would be a tireless advocate for tax reform and supports the so-called “Fair Tax,” which would eliminate federal income and payroll taxes and replace them with a consumption-based tax. A “prebate” would offset any taxes that people of all income levels paid on basic necessities up to the level of the federal poverty level. More about Johnson’s views on the Fair Tax can be found here.

Johnson expressed support for President Obama’s recent decision to send 100 military advisers to Uganda to help battle the Lord’s Resistance Army, which he called one of the worst terrorist organizations on the planet. Pointing out that unlike the military action in Libya, Congress approved the action more than a year ago, Johnson said that the Lord’s Resistance Army is a “finite group” of about 300 people and that “stopping the genocide” they were perpetrating certainly qualified as a “humanitarian effort” on the part of the U.S. military.


Participaton in conference call with Gary Johnson, 12:30 to 1:15 p.m., EDT, Oct. 19, 2011


Wikipedia entry on Marc Emery