How Stephen Colbert’s FEC Appeal Could Backfire on Campaign Finance

Colbert appeared before the FEC today to make his case for a Colbert Super PAC.

How Stephen Colbert's FEC Appeal Could Backfire on Campaign Finance

Stephen Colbert has recently been deploying his “if you can’t beat them, satirize them into submission” brand of political humor to challenge campaign finance rules.

Highlighting the dangers of the 2010 Supreme Court ruling Citizens United, which reversed limits on corporate campaign donations imposed under the McCain-Feingold act, Colbert asked FEC for permission to open his very own PAC—”Colbert Super PAC.”

Colbert’s PAC would be supported by the corporate powers of Comedy Central and its parent company Viacom to “run TV advertisements about candidates that would air as paid commercials on other shows and networks.”

What began as a joke satirizing the ridiculousness of a corporation vehicles like Viacom being able to donate cash and resources to a political campaign—and to do so in secrecy—has turned into a serious issue that could potentially exacerbate the corporate influence in elections that Colbert set out to poke fun at.

In doing so, Colbert points out that as members of the media, both he and Viacom should be granted a “media exemption” allowed under “Super PACs” (not allowed under traditional PACs, because everything in America that’s “super” sized kicks extra ass).

The problem with this, as Politico points out, is that if the FEC grants the media exemption for Colbert, it would likely have the real-world consequence of “blur[ring] the lines between political money and media to an unprecedented extent.”

The report continues, “For instance, it might enable Fox News pundit-politicians such as Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee to use the network’s resources to boost their own political committees.”

It’s as if Colbert is daring the FEC to take him seriously and allow his request. If they do, however, the joke may be on him.

Such is the danger of the FEC actually turning Colbert’s parody in to a real-world elections corporate free-for-all that liberal groups supporting stricter campaign finance rules like Democracy 21 and Campaign Legal Center are petitioning the FEC against Colbert’s filing.

Democracy 21 president Fred Wertheimer tells Politico, “I think Colbert is trying to dramatize problems in the campaign finance world in the way that he dramatizes other things But nevertheless, the proposals here would potentially open gaping disclosure loopholes in the campaign finance laws.”

He goes on to say that if FEC plays the straight man to Colbert’s joke and actually approves his request, it’ll “result in the ‘radical evisceration’ of campaign finance rules.”

Last time Stephen Colbert testified on Capitol Hill, it was about immigration, where he discussed his day working on a farm to assert that no American citizen would ever take farm jobs.

While Colbert broke character for a brief moment, for the most part the Congressmen and women understood that he was kidding, and his point was taken as such.

With today’s appearance before the FEC, Colbert risks having pushed the envelope of commentary clear off the table, himself becoming an unwitting accomplice in the political corruption he seeks to satirize.

UPDATE: The FEC will allow Colbert to form his Super PAC. Stay tuned for updates on how this reverberates throughout the political system.