Stephen Colbert almost bought naming rights to South Carolina GOP primary

Along with naming rights, Stephen Colbert wants to place a referendum on the South Carolina GOP primary ballot asking voters to decide if 'corporations are people,' or if 'only people are people.' 

Carolyn Kaster/AP
Comedian Stephen Colbert shouts to the crowd during the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on the National Mall in Washington in 2010. The "sanity" rally blending laughs and political activism drew thousands to the National Mall with comedians Jon Stewart and Colbert casting themselves as the unlikely maestros of moderation and civility in polarized times.

Comedian Stephen Colbert just can’t keep away from mixing it up with presidential politics in his home state of South Carolina. After a failed attempt to enter the 2008 GOP primary there, he's at it again.

This time, he began with an audacious bid to rename the January GOP primary after his super PAC, Making a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow. In exchange for a donation, the primary’s proposed new tag would have been, “The Colbert Nation Super PAC Presidential Primary.”

He also wanted to place a referendum on the ballot, asking voters to decide if “corporations are people,” or if “only people are people.” 

The GOP ultimately turned down Colbert's naming-rights offer and the state Supreme Court ruled there could be no referendum on the ballot, leading Mr. Colbert to appeal to the South Carolina Democratic party for help. 

The possibility that the primary might have been up for sale is leading some Republicans to shake their heads in dismay. 

“What were they thinking?” says Atlanta-based Republican strategist David Johnson.“They were clearly dazzled by the potential donation and now they have egg all over their face.” He says they ought to have known better, noting  that the comedy card must be played very carefully.

“Leno and Letterman are one thing. They are basically a talk show and if you go along with them they are pretty much a softball.” Mr. Johnson says. But cable hosts are a different matter, with fewer restrictions for on-air content.

“You get down in the mud with Colbert and you will have mud all over yourself,” he says.

But South Carolina Republican Party executive director Matt Moore says the comedy host was very respectful when he made the initial overture back in September. “He promised not to lampoon us or make the party look bad in any way,” he says. He made it clear that his interest was in bringing attention to a cause that is close to his heart – namely, the influence of corporate money in politics.”  

Party officials weigh serious donor offers carefully, balancing the risks and rewards, says Mr. Moore. “We are interested in reaching out to a younger demographic, and Stephen Colbert clearly appeals to that group.”  

In the end, the offer was turned down, in part he says, because “we were afraid of opening a Pandora’s Box if we allowed the primary to be renamed.” Beyond that, “we were not certain if it might even lead to the  primary being declared invalid.”

According to Colbert’s super PAC website, the comedy host is still pursuing the possibilitiy that his question about corporations versus people might still make it onto the January ballot. He has requested the South Carolina Democratic party appeal to the Supreme court to reverse its position. "Trust me, this was a measure of last resort,” he says in a statement.

Chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party Richard Harpootlian has filed a rehearing to get the referendums put back on the Republican Primary ballot, according to Democratic party spokesperson, Amanda Loveday. Even if it doesn't get on the ballot, she notes, the question may get out to some voters because “some of the absentee and military ballots already have been printed and have the question on them.” 

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