What did Stephen Colbert super PAC spend its money on?

The Stephen Colbert super PAC, 'Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow,' has reported raising more than $1 million, quite a lot for satire, and shelling out more than $150,000.

Jason Reed/Reuters
Actor and television host Stephen Colbert throws a hat into the crowd which belonged to former Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain during a rally at the College of Charleston, South Carolina, in January. The Stephen Colbert super PAC has reported raising more than $1 million, what is the money spent on?

Stephen Colbert’s super PAC released its first Federal Election Commission report this week, in case you haven’t heard. Lots of media coverage has focused on how much money the group has raised: over one million bucks, so far. That’s a lot, considering that donors know their checks are bolstering a comedic enterprise, albeit one that’s satirizing the current political money system to make a point.

But when political pros analyze a donor organization they look at where the money is going as much as the amount coming in. So we took a morning to go through the expenditures portion of the Colbert report, and it’s pretty interesting.

First off, there were no zeppelin purchases as far as we could see – Jon Stewart joked about that during the brief period he controlled the Colbert super PAC cash. No unicorn purchases either, despite the fact that Colbert appeared to be riding one in a super PAC-financed advertisement. There were no purchases of jewelry from Elizabeth Taylor’s estate, no Trump Tower condos purchased as a super PAC clubhouse, no dollars converted into Narnia currency to create a secret slush fund for Aslan.

In total, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, as the super PAC is officially known, spent $151,521.01 in calendar year 2011. Here’s where it went:

Colbert's posse

If you total it up, the biggest category of Colbert expenditure was for writing and media consulting services, at around $12,389. The bulk of this went to individuals who work for "The Colbert Report" show, or production companies identifiably linked to Colbert. Our favorite in that regard was the $175 that went to Well Read Doofus Productions, a Brooklyn consultancy run by Colbert staff writer Scott Sherman.

The above figure does not include the money Colbert paid to his bosses. Yes, the FEC report lists a $2,000 payment to Comedy Partners, the corporate subsidiary which operates the Comedy Central network on which Colbert’s show appears. Payoff? Hush money? Bribe? It would be irresponsible of us to speculate that the payment was any of those things.


The Colbert super PAC web site offers for sale a T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “Turtles don’t like peanut butter.” No, we don’t know what that means, but whatever it is, the on-line shop notes the shirt “is not available in turtle-neck.”

The costs connected with this little enterprise are considerable. Adding up design, production, and storage and on-line order handling, last year the super PAC laid out about $10,569 related to T-shirts. We think it’s defensible to say Colbert is running a donor-supported shirt business as opposed to a super PAC. (That would be legal, in case you’re wondering.)

Political ads 

Ads, on the other hand, weren’t the biggest expenditure category, strictly speaking, though we bet a lot of the “Posse” money (see above) went into their creation. The FEC filing lists a total of $5,930 paid directly to Iowa television stations in 2011 to broadcast Colbert-produced satirical ads, such as the one that urged Iowans to vote for “Rick Parry, with an ‘A.’ ”

The super PAC also listed $5,350 paid to “Media Ad Ventures,” a Springfield, Va., political ad consultancy that specializes in production and ad placement.

Genial on-screen lawyer sidekick

Trevor Potter, a former chief of the FEC, has figured prominently in episodes of 'The Colbert Report" dealing with the super PAC. He provides on-screen legal advice with trademark geniality, smiling as he basically tells Colbert that, yes, folks can channel all the money they can afford into the political system, without divulging their identities.

But avuncular does not come cheap. The FEC report lists $6,049.61 paid to Caplin and Drysdale, Mr. Potter’s firm.


Think the Internet is free? Think again. Funny websites don’t come cheap. Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow sent $6,760 to Electric Pulp in Sioux Falls, S.D., to build its website. Sioux Falls? We’d probably better not say anything snarky – we’ve got relatives living out that way.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.