Colbert’s Super PAC

Stephen Colbert stopped by the FEC to form a SuperPAC.

Why should you care? Because what he’s doing is brilliant and has real world consequences.

Background:
On Friday, May 13th, Colbert and his lawyer showed up at the Federal Election Commission building in D.C. to formally request an advisory opinion for the Colbert Super PAC, which if created will be an independent expenditure Political Action Comittee able to accept unlimited corporate, individual, political committee and labor contributions.

This is a real request, says Colbert “I’m making an actual request. I want to find out whether I actually have to list Viacom and the fact that I have a show as a gift in-kind,and if I don’t, I can’t wait to use the resources of my show.”

The Lawful In-kind Contribution:
If Stephen Colbert forms a PAC and then references or uses material from the PAC on his show, there is a question whether Viacom (his corporate parent) must report the time used to talk about the PAC as an In-kind Contribution to the PAC. The FEC created this rule to prevent free advertising of PACs by shows. There is an exemption, called the Press Exemption, which is why Karl Rove can get paid by Fox News and go on Fox News and blabber on and on about American Crossroads with no repercussions, Fox News is a press entity and is exempt. Colbert is seeking clarity as to whether Viacom can count as a press entity.

It is possible the FEC will do ruling here that may strike down the press exemption, or alter it in ways that affect Fox News and their paid contributors who also run PACs like Karl Rove and Sarah Palin. In that event, Colbert has already won, hurting an enemy while producing bits for his own show. Colbert also exposes the lax of regulations and oversight at the FEC on forming PACs and SuperPACs. If Colbert is allowed the Press Exemption, he has free reign to create a multitude of content that will have implications in the 2012 campaign and beyond.

For example, this will allow Colbert to produce commercials to air in markets of close races. Due to the Colbert satire angle, expect them to be “pro-GOP” in a sense of them being anything but. Colbert’s name will ensure viral internet propagation of the commercials, and they’ll also be used as material for The Colbert Report. The commercials won’t even have to air to be seen thousands of times in the districts they are targeting. The 2012 campaign season promises to be more entertaining that 2008 ever was.

Colbert’s success in getting his PAC started will inspire others to do similar work. I am not sure who could set up something as large as his PAC has the potential to be in time for 2012, but I expect there will be a few copycats of varying degrees of seriousness.

Colbert is quoted as saying “I believe the Citizens United decision was the right one, there should be unlimited corporate money, and I want some of it. I don’t want to be the one chump who doesn’t have any.”
Then Colbert spoke:

“As we stand here on this historic site, where 250 years ago today George Washington filed his papers to form his independent expenditures non-connected political action committee, we are also standing at an American crossroads — not to be confused with American Crossroads, the name of Karl Rove’s ‘Super PAC,” Colbert told the crowd. “I mean a metaphorical crossroads, because the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United has proved that unlimited corporate money equals free speech. But by the transitive property of elections, does it not also follow that no corporate money equals silence?”

“I want to form Colbert Super PAC for all the PAC-less Americans, to give you a voice in the form of my voice,” Colbert said.

Colbert told the crowd he’d be offering handshakes at $1 a pop and collected fists full of cash as he darted into an awaiting SUV.

Background from episodes of Colbert Report (thanks Lansdowne):
March 10th
Inspired by ads from Tim Pawlenty and his PAC, Colbert decides to form his own.

March 30th
Colbert asks former FEC chair Trevor Potter about PACs and prepares to submit his paperwork.

April 14th part 1
Parent company Viacom urges Colbert to cease PAC activities as it would be an illegal ‘in kind’ contribution of corporate resources.

April 14th part 2
Trevor Potter returns to help Colbert submit the necessary cover letter to turn his PAC application into a SuperPAC application, which allows for corporate donations.

April 28th
Colbert discusses the differences between PACs and SuperPACs. Interview with Russ Feingold about impacts of the Citizens United ruling.

May 11th
Viacom still is reluctant to allow Colbert to continue PAC activities as they would have to disclose details about its contribution of airtime and resources. Trevor Potter then helps Colbert in obtaining a ‘media exemption’ which allows for journalistic organizations to report on PAC activities without considering the airtime a contribution.