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Monday, May 16, 2011

Stephen Colbert appears at the Federal Election Commission for the "Colbert Super-PAC": The Serious Implications of Stephen Colbert's FEC Stunt

The Serious Implications of Stephen Colbert's FEC Stunt

Stephen Colbert, in full character as the prototypical conservative pundit, appeared at the Federal Election Commission after filing paperwork for his political action committee, the "Colbert Super-PAC." As Politico explains, Colbert was there to determine if his airtime on Comedy Central would be considered a campaign contribution from the network's parent company Viacom, or if it would fall under the so-called "media exception" that allows newspapers, blogs, radio show hosts and others considered media to urge votes for or against candidates.
It was a typical Colbert stunt. In an address to a crowd of several hundred, he declared he was motivated by the "American dream."
And that dream is simple. That anyone, no matter who they are, if they are determined, if they are willing to work hard enough, someday they could grow up to create a legal entity which could then receive unlimited corporate funds, which could be used to influence our elections.
But some are speculating that this stunt might actually motivate an important political cause that arose following the 2010 Supreme Court case Citizens United v. FEC, where the court struck down laws barring corporations from donating money. The Republican win in the 2010 midterm elections is in part attributed to advertising dollars made possible by the Citizens United decision. Writes Vogel:
If nothing else, [Colbert] could help the cause of campaign finance advocates by highlighting the ability of corporations to spend unlimited amounts to support or oppose candidates, and – as Lisa Gilbert of Public Citizen describes it – expose “the clear conflict of interest that Fox media has as they allow political figures to promote their PACs on a supposedly neutral media outlet.”
If the FEC rules that any airtime Colbert devotes to promoting the PAC should be treated, and disclosed, as a in-kind contribution from Viacom, this might “have a real election law impact,” according to Gilbert. It could potentially restrict the freedom of high-profile Republicans who serve as paid Fox News contributors while being affiliated with PACS, including Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Karl Rove, and Dick Morris.
Of course, this requires the FEC to be willing to play along with Colbert's point, and bureaucracies are not renowned for unconventional approaches to reform. In that vein, The Wall Street Journal suggested that Colbert's demonstration had comedic value only:
Democrats tried to make hay over the Citizens United ruling last election, an issue that never quite caught on with voters. But the crowd outside the FEC late Friday afternoon wasn’t typical American voters.
"This is D.C., so this is not that nerdy, unfortunately,” said Jon Avery, a 25-year-old economist for the federal government. “It’s always funny that he can kind of bring light to it."
Video of Colbert at the FEC is below.  

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