Is Stephen Colbert trying to buy Senate seat in South Carolina?

Stephen Colbert's decision to campaign for the seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Jim DeMint gives the famous funnyman yet another chance to educate Americans on how to game the US campaign finance system.

John Shearer/Invision/AP/File
Stephen Colbert presents an award onstage at the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles in this Sept. 23 file photo.

Is Stephen Colbert trying to buy a US Senate seat from South Carolina? It kinda sorta sounded like he was during Monday night’s “Colbert Report," as he speculated about transferring nearly a million dollars in untraceable former "super PAC" cash into a secret Palmetto State slush fund.

“That would be horrible if that came out. Which it wouldn’t, because like I said it’s impossible to trace,” said Mr. Colbert on the Senate subject.

Let’s back up and explain the context here, shall we? Last week Sen. Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina announced he’ll resign to run the Heritage Foundation, a conservative D.C. think tank. Senator DeMint’s term runs until 2014, and GOP South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley gets to pick a replacement to fill the seat until then. South Carolina native Colbert immediately launched a tongue-in-cheek effort to persuade Governor Haley to pick him – although “tongue-in-cheek” is a pretty mild descriptor for Colbert’s comedic style.

“My network contract prohibits me from taking on another full-time job. So the Senate would be perfect,” he said Monday night.

Here’s where the money thing comes in. Colbert used to have a super political-action committee, which he used, among other things, to mount a notional run for “president of South Carolina” during the GOP primaries. But last month, he suddenly shut down the super PAC, even though it still contained almost a million dollars.

What he was doing was taking things a step further to continue to illuminate the netherworld of US campaign finance law. With on-air advice from his personal lawyer, former Federal Election Commission head Trevor Potter, he legally laundered his super PAC stash through a couple of 501 (c)(4) nonprofit groups, essentially making it disappear.

But you just know that money is going to surface in a comedy bit in some manner. The South Carolina Senate situation offers a perfect opportunity. During Monday’s episode, Colbert brought up ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), who in 2009 was convicted of trying to essentially sell President Obama’s old Senate seat.

“I certainly don’t want this Senate appointment to turn into a Blagojevich scandal,” said Colbert. “Where, and I’m just spit-balling here, an ambitious would-be senator with a secret stash of nearly a million completely untraceable former super PAC dollars uses that money to buy political influence by transferring all of it to a shadowy fund located in the governor’s state of South Carolina that no one would be able to trace.”

Wink wink, nudge nudge, knowwhatImean?

Don’t hold your breath – Colbert’s not going to be a senator.

Yes, there’s a Public Policy Polling survey out showing he’s the top choice of South Carolina voters for the post. But that poll was not exactly rigorous, in that Colbert’s name came first in the question and the other choices were GOP politicians with generally lower name recognition in the state. Also, it was of all voters. Colbert ran strongly with Democrats and independents. Only 6 percent of Republicans said they wanted a Colbert appointment.

More to the point, Governor Haley has reportedly drawn up a short list of potential appointees, and he’s not on it. On her Facebook page she charged that when she appeared on his show Colbert couldn’t correctly identify South Carolina’s state drink (milk), calling into question his Palmetto bona fides. Colbert’s shot back that she couldn’t identify the state amphibian (spotted salamander).

South Carolina’s other US senator, Republican Lindsey Graham, said on Tuesday that it might be a good thing to have somebody as funny as Colbert in the Senate. “Anybody that could make us laugh might lead to better dealmaking,” Senator Graham told the Huffington Post.

But Graham added that Colbert needs to earn the spot, as comedian Al Franken earned his Senate seat from Minnesota in 2008.

“If Steve Colbert wants to run, then he should go run,” said Graham.

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