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:
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.)
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.