Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson said Monday that he won't release his tax returns, joining his voice to that of presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney, who has declined to release more than the two most recent years.
In a meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times, Mr. Johnson said he hadn't previously been asked to release his forms, but said he understood Mr. Romney's reluctance. Mr. Johnson, a former New Mexico governor who built a contracting company from the ground up, said he hasn't owed taxes to the federal government in recent years because he has suffered heavy losses — and he speculated that may be the same reason Mr. Romney has declined to release his own.
"I think the consensus is, is that he's trying to hide the fact that he's made a whole lot of money, as opposed to that he actually probably didn't pay any tax because he lost so much money. That's my guess. Because I'm in the same camp," Mr. Johnson said.
Asked specifically whether he would release his returns, the candidate said he would "respectfully decline."
Mr. Johnson, who won the Libertarian Party's nomination in May after dropping out of the GOP race late last year, said he is asking voters to give him and his party another look and said he is counting on dissatisfaction with both major parties to push voters into his corner.
"A lot more people say they are libertarian than vote Libertarian, so what I'm trying to tap into is: Vote Libertarian just this one time and really give me a chance to really make a difference," he said.
He said his only path to victory is to gain attention by being allowed into the presidential debates, where he can raise his profile and try to build a coalition of voters who tend to be fiscally conservative and socially "accepting."
"The only way that I win is if I am on the national debate stage with Romney and Obama, and the only way I do that is if I'm in the polls that determine who gets in the debates. And right now, only three polling organizations out of 18 are including my name," he said.
Mr. Johnson meets the age and citizenship qualifications to be president and will appear on enough state ballots to be able to win the electoral votes needed to claim the White House — two of the criteria the commission that sponsors the debates requires.
But right now he does not garner 15 percent in national polls — the final requirement the commission has laid out.
Mr. Johnson polled 4 percent in the latest Washington Times-JZ Analytics poll earlier this month, and several other surveys also included Mr. Johnson. Gallup became the latest to do so this month, showing him with 3 percent support.
Earlier Times/JZ Analytics polling showed an appetite for a third-party candidate, but not necessarily for Mr. Johnson's mix of political positions.
He said he would withdraw troops immediately from Afghanistan, curtail drone attacks and never sign off on a drone assassination of a U.S. citizen, and he would repeal the USA Patriot Act.
He also said he supports "marriage equality, believing that it's constitutionally guaranteed" — but struggled to name where in the Constitutional that guarantee is. At the end of his meeting with The Times, he conferred with an aide and then said the right comes from the 14th Amendment.
He backs the Fair Tax, a national sales tax that he said would replace the Internal Revenue Service and the current income tax code.
Mr. Johnson also is one of the country's foremost spokesmen for legalizing marijuana and acknowledged using it and other, harder drugs. He said he thinks the country should legalize all drugs, but as president he would push first for marijuana legalization.
This week he released a Web video trying to tap into the marijuana legalization movement. The video includes a photo of President Obama smoking a joint when he was younger.
"I'm saying to Obama, 'Look, man, you smoked it. You smoked it and you didn't go to jail.' That's not fair," he told The Times.
Mr. Johnson made his money by founding and running Big J Enterprises, a contracting business he built up to employ hundreds of workers. His net worth last year reportedly was about $6 million.
He told The Times he has suffered losses in recent years, which is why he won't release his tax returns.
Mr. Obama has released his returns. Mr. Romney has released his 2010 return and an estimate of taxes paid in 2011 but has declined to release returns from prior years.
Federal law requires candidates to fill out a broad estimate of their net worth, but they are not required to release their returns.
Mr. Romney's campaign didn't respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Johnson said if he can raise the money, he would like to run ads on cable TV in states where he thinks he has the best chance of winning votes: New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Montana and Alaska.
As of June 30, his campaign had raised $1 million, had just $5,219 cash on hand and had debts totaling $431,722. The Federal Election Commission has deemed him eligible for federal matching funds, and he had collected $130,000 as of last month.
Mr. Johnson said he has felt like a Libertarian since the party's founding in 1971 but hasn't voted that way. In fact, he voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, and for Sen. Bob Dole before that. In 2008, he voted for Constitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin.
He said that having been a governor for two full terms, he has more executive experience than Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama combined and that his record of vetoing spending should make him attractive even to supporters of Rep. Ron Paul, who vociferously backed their hero in the GOP primaries.
"There's no difference in the message," Mr. Johnson said. "And I'm making the pitch that I have a resume to suggest that maybe I'll be more effective than Dr. Paul. And that's not to discount anything from Dr. Paul at all. It's just — it's not a compromise vote."
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