On January 21st, 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States determined that money used to express one’s opinions is synonymous with speech, and as the 1st amendment to the United States Constitution protects most forms of expression, money spent to express an opinion should not be limited by law. There are other aspects of this, such as the idea that a corporate entity is considered an individual, and therefore has rights that should be protected by the Constitution, but we’ll these arguments for another day.
June 30th, 2011. Actor, comedian, and host of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report received permission from the Federal Election Commission to form an organization protected under the above referenced Supreme Court ruling. To put it simply: Colbert is free to use the resources provided to him by Comedy Central (Viacom) for the purpose of operating his show in the pursuit of whatever cause he sees fit. Additionally, he can collect donations of any amount, with no limit, and with no need for recording or reporting the donors, for use under the organization he formed, called a Super Political Action Committee, or PAC.
I’m going to rephrase the above one last time, just so it sinks in: Stephen Colbert is free to collect unlimited funds to do with as he pleases (with a few exceptions that are largely irrelevant given what I believe he intends to do, which we’ll get to shortly), and he may use his show to promote the existence of, donations to, and cause of his PAC with no need for Viacom to report any of these show-related expenses to the FEC.
“Making a Better Tomorrow… Tomorrow.”
Many know Colbert as a satirical caricature of a conservative Republican. He offers his ‘support’ of conservative causes by finding absurdity of the position, argument, or behavior of those involved and whole heartedly endorsing that absurdity. The obvious intent here is to poke fun at the targets of his support, and to display a deeper truth behind much of the goings on in the political scene. Currently, most of his activities are limited to his show.
So, why the PAC? On the episode of The Colbert Report aired on Thursday, July 28th, Colbert admitted, for the first time to my knowledge, something that many of us assumed already. Colbert stated that his PAC is a way for him to “receive unlimited funds so that [he] can tamper with the 2012 elections.” Suddenly, the scope of his satirical influence can more beyond those who willingly choose to watch his show, and into the murky sea of political advertising.
My Republican Friends
Colbert has a plan, and given the nature of his show it isn’t hard to guess what it is. I’m going to put it bluntly: The Colbert Super PAC is going to run political ads in support of Republican candidates that are either completely insane, or just off enough to leave a bad taste in the mouths of many moderate conservatives.
Imagine a group with theoretically unlimited funds, led by what many would argue one of the best satirists of our times, with the support of a world-class writing and production staff, and legal authorization to act granted implicitly by the United States Supreme Court and expressly by the Federal Elections Commission, creating campaign ads designed to appear as though a candidate or candidate’s party is delivering a message that is wholly unappealing to their constituents. The campaigns, parties, and supporters of these candidates will need to spend significant resources combating this. Applied correctly, Colbert could have a significant impact on the outcome of our next Presidential Election
Wait, This Seems Bad
I want to quote FEC Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub:
“Thank you, Mr. Colbert, not only for coming in today and presenting us with this interesting question, but for raising the profile on the important issues that we deal with every day. “
I believe the end goal here is to create such a substantial disruption to the political process that lawmakers take action to change the rules which are causing them. Removing the ability for corporations and special interests groups to funnel monetary support to political causes with no oversight or accountability is truly the end goal here. The campaign finance system in this country is broken, and the only way to fix it is to stress it until it fails, spectacularly.