Stephen Colbert is forming a “super PAC” to produce and air political ads prior to the 2012 election. On Thursday the Federal Election Commission gave the “Colbert Report” comedian permission to proceed with his plan to create such an entity, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts of cash.
Colbert celebrated outside the FEC offices by taking donations from passers-by on an iPad equipped to swipe credit cards.
“Today we put liberty on lay-away,” he said.
The FEC did not give Colbert everything he asked for, though. He had asked commissioners to rule on whether he had to disclose donations to his super PAC from Viacom, his corporate employer. Seeing as he’s a journalist – albeit a fake one – he suggested that maybe he qualified for a press exemption from disclosure regulations.
The FEC said no, sort of. Colbert doesn’t have to disclose Viacom resources used to create ads that run on his own show. If they run elsewhere – on “The O’Reilly Factor,” say – then Viacom’s help must be publicly reported.
Watchdog groups were relieved by the ruling, as they’d thought that Colbert’s press exemption request, if fully approved, could have blown another hole in a campaign finance system that’s already full of them.
OK, fine. Now let’s get to the questions we’re really interested in: Why is Colbert doing this? What’s he going to do with his brand new campaign finance organization? What sorts of issues will the “Colbert Report” host be pushing?
He hasn't said yet. But we say he did this to create a venue for performance art that reflects his own political views. Colbert is more of an activist than is his fellow Comedy Central star Jon Stewart. Would Stewart appear at a congressional hearing and testify on immigrant labor after working on a farm for one day? No, he wouldn’t. Colbert did, though.
“I believe one day of me studying anything makes me an expert,” said Colbert when he testified in character at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing last September.
Colbert is probably going to use his real super PAC for activities that will highlight how chaotic the political money system has become. Just look at the tweets he sent out prior to Thursday’s FEC hearing. It’ll be BYOB, he noted – “bring your own billions.” Also, he said that PAC stands for “Plastic and/or cash” and that followers should join him outside the FEC afterward and bring friends, “especially if they’re tiny green men printed on bills.”
Election-season ads from real PACs are ripe for satire – they’re usually scary stuff about how China is buying up the US, or unions are being destroyed, or somesuch. We can envision Colbert’s super PAC ads now – the horror movie sound track, the grainy spinning photos, and the tag line, which will be something along the lines of “we buy democracy so you don’t have to,” or “Congress is for sale – it’s behind the Dockers at Costco.”
Yes, the winner in all this may just be Viacom’s and Colbert’s pockets, as they find ever-more creative ways to manipulate the actual political system for comedic and ratings gains. But as we’ve noted above, Colbert has an activist, liberal edge that occasionally comes through. During last September’s hearings on immigrant labor, he dropped his mask for a moment.
“I like talking about people who don’t have any power,” he said in what appeared to be all seriousness. “And it seems like some of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work but don’t have any rights as a result.”