Stephen Colbert, Ironic Champion Of The Super PAC

Stephen Colbert loves talking up Super PACs.

Ever since the Supreme Court opened the floodgates for anonymous, unlimited cash in political campaigns a year and a half ago, and especially since the Republican presidential race heated up last summer, the Comedy Central comedian/satirist/performance artist hasn’t been able to help but draw attention to the absurdity of America’s campaign finance system.

And now, after raising hundreds of thousands in dollars and trying to get on the presidential ballot in South Carolina, he’s taking things to the next level. This week, dubbed “Super PAC week” by the house comedian warming up the crowd before the taping of Tuesday night’s “Report,” has featured Colbert teaming up with Jon Stewart and Trevor Potter, John McCain’s former lawyer, in order to repeatedly and succinctly showcase the flimsy line of “independence” that separates political campaigns from the third-party groups that can raise money without being hemmed in by contribution limits or regular disclosure.

By making a mockery of rules against coordination between Super PACs and the candidates they support, and by featuring campaign finance reformer Potter on the show so often, Colbert and Stewart are wading into politics with a bit less timidity than usual. While there’s nothing risky about going after the influence of big money on politics, it’s not exactly intuitive that Super PACs and Citizens United would make for late night laughs day after day. And there are legal risks to pushing FEC rules to the limit (though as Potter said on Tuesday’s show, Super PAC money could be used to pay any fines imposed!):

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Colbert Super PAC – Not Coordinating with Stephen Colbert
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Colbert’s tongue-in-cheek presidential run speaks to the changed campaign finance environment. Whereas in 2008 he struggled to raise money, Colbert’s new campaign is flush with Super PAC cash.

Stewart, who took the reins of the Super PAC so Colbert could run for president, released a new South Carolina TV ad this week urging a vote for Herman Cain (whose name remains on the ballot) as a way to signal support for Stephen Colbert:

Mitt Romney, for his part, is not taking the threat seriously.

“Stephen Colbert is entitled to be a humorist and hopefully it’s funny,” the Republican frontrunner said Tuesday. “Having not seen it I don’t know whether I think it’s funny or not but we’ll see.” Colbert “has a tradition of being able to touch my funny bone so we’ll see if he’ll be able to accomplish that again.”

And South Carolina’s primary, though open to voters of any party, has winner-take-all delegate contests in each congressional district and statewide, meaning Colbert gets nothing for 5 percent of the vote.

“We pick presidents here,” said Alex Stroman, political director of the South Carolina GOP. “I’m not hearing about Stephen Colbert. I don’t think he’ll gain any traction.”

But assuming Colbert’s endgame is political success would be a silly mistake. One can’t help but imagine he would be far more pleased if he were hauled before the FEC and therefore given a more prominent and less easily-dismissed platform to excoriate the 19th century American campaign finance system.


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