What William, myself, and others have been unable to do, Stephen Colbert is doing. If the COLBERT, the presidential run, the hockey team mascot, the speed skating, the guest columns and editorships, the bestseller, the tv show, and all else weren’t enough, Rev. Sir Dr. Colbert has proven himself to be, essentially, a muckraker – and a good one at that.
Earlier this year and with the help of attorney Trevor Potter, Colbert launched his very own super PAC named “Americans For A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.” The super PAC is legally able to raise unlimited funds. It is not required to release donor information, to declare treasury statements, or to act with any significant level of transparency. Additionally, Colbert created a 501(c)4. A (c)4 can take in unlimited funds from corporations, and then transition those funds into a PAC, without declaring the original donors (Colbert proudly denies any relevant difference between this and money laundering). Colbert has more than 170,000 emails on his super PAC registry, and has had more than 30,000 donors; however, he has, in accordance with his rights, kept his total cash-on-hand secret. He has used the super PAC to support a write-in campaign for Rick Parry (that’s Parry, with an “A” for IowA, with an “A” for AmericA) in the Ames Straw Poll, which Michelle Bachmann ultimately won. He supported the owners during the NBA lockout dispute (many suggest Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban might be behind much of the funds used for the lockout spots). He has also endorsed former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer’s presidential campaign.
Colbert’s foremost showcase of the problems with super PACs (and, transitively, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision) is Colbert’s near-success in renaming the South Carolina primary. Americans For A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow offered $400,000 to offset primary costs in South Carolina in exchange for renaming the primary, and the addition of a referendum question on every ballot. The new name would have been: “The Stephen Colbert Super PAC South Carolina Primary.” This would have been printed on every ballot in the state, every press credential awarded, and every primary lanyard given to polling place workers. The ballot question would have asked whether “corporations are people,” or “only people are people.” (Insert Mitt Romney reference, here). Republicans were on the verge of accepting when the state Supreme Court ruled that counties, not the state, must determine primary regulations. Charles McGrath writes for The New York Times:
Even Colbert [had] seemed a little surprised, pointing out that he had repeatedly warned both the Republicans and the Democrats that his aims were satirical and that their very willingness to negotiate with him could become a joke on the show. “It turns out that both sides are happy to take my money,” he said.
Colbert’s purpose is, so he claims, humor; however, his function is becoming rapidly more important. Egoistic Colbert has hacked into the American political system and begun to demonstrate from within some of its most perilous flaws. Perhaps if Colbert’s success in shifting the debate continues there might soon be some much needed campaign finance reforms and regulations, and even possibly a reversal of the Citizens United v. FEC decision. Regardless, the fictional character-Colbert has done an exceptional job shining light onto one of the most flawed and undemocratic aspects of the American political system.
For more on Colbert, read Charles McGrath’s NYT piece here.