Stephen Colbert PAC: Fans Cheer Outside Federal Election Commission As Comedian Files Papers
WASHINGTON -- Hundreds of fans cheered Stephen Colbert as he delivered legal papers to the Federal Election Commission on Friday afternoon in his continued attempt to form his own political action committee.
The Comedy Central political satirist told reporters he was there because he supports the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, which gutted decades of post-Watergate campaign finance laws.
"There should be unlimited campaign money," Colbert said, staying in character as the right-wing blowhard he portrays on his show. "And I want some of it."
After handing the paperwork to an FEC official in the agency's lobby, Colbert paused in the doorway to make a statement to the crowd. "I believe in the American Dream," he said. "And that dream is simple: That anyone, no matter who they are, if they are determined, if they are willing to work hard enough, someday they can grow up to create a legal entity which can then receive unlimited campaign funds which can be used to influence elections."
The crowd roared its approval. It also sang "Happy Birthday." Colbert turned 47 on Friday.
Colbert announced his visit to Washington on Thursday night's show, and during the day Friday he barraged his 2.3 million Twitter followers and 1.9 million Facebook fans with entreaties to join him at the FEC.
In the filing Colbert delivered, his attorney, Trevor Potter, wrote:
"Mr. Colbert plans to form an actual federal independent expenditure-only committee named 'Colbert Super PAC.' Colbert Super PAC will make only independent expenditures, advertisements that expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate and that are not coordinated with any candidate or political party. Colbert Super PAC will also pay usual and normal administrative expenses, including but not limited to, luxury hotel stays, private jet travel, and PAC mementos from Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus."
The request continued, "Colbert Super PAC intends to solicit and accept unlimited corporate contributions, unlimited individual contributions, unlimited political-committee contributions, and unlimited labor contributions."
The pursuit of the PAC is part of Colbert's continued mockery of the nation's campaign finance laws, which resulted from a series of debilitating Supreme Court decisions.
Colbert filed a request Friday for an advisory opinion required to get his committee off the ground, although it's not the FEC that has been pushing back on his plans; it's Comedy Central's parent company, Viacom.
Colbert was initially going to form a regular political action committee -- until Viacom told him to cease and desist, on the grounds that the FEC would consider Colbert's use of Viacom resources as an illegal in-kind contribution.
Colbert then consulted on air with Potter, a lawyer and former FEC chairman who now runs the pro-reform Campaign Finance Center. Potter explained that if Colbert formed a "SuperPAC" instead, Viacom could legally make unlimited in-kind contributions. Colbert proceeded to file the appropriate paperwork.
On Wednesday, Colbert announced that Viacom had once again put the kibosh on his plans.
Potter, again on the show, explained why. "They are nervous that Viacom is going to end up making an illegal corporate contribution to your PAC," he said. The issue is that "there might be a complaint or an investigation about whether they showed enough and they would have to turn over their internal bookkeeping and potentially reveal Viacom secrets," Potter said.
"How do the guys on Fox get away with it?" Colbert responded.
Potter explained that Fox gets an exemption because it's a media organization. "The media exemption says that if you're a broadcast station, not owned by a candidate or a party" –- "I'm not!" Colbert interjected –- "and you're reporting the news in your normal way of going about business, then you're exempt. You're not making a corporate contribution when you talk about candidates and politics."
So Colbert asked the FEC on Friday for a media exemption.
In the filing, Potter acknowledged one obvious possible pitfall. "A press entity could conceivably fall outside the exemption where it utilizes an unconnected medium or undertakes extraordinary efforts that go beyond its normal press activities to aid a federal candidate or committee," he wrote. In other words, Colbert's show isn't exactly your typical newscast.
"However, given the First Amendment concerns implicated by regulation of the press, as well as the editorial and creative discretion recognized by the 'press exemption,' the Commission has generally given wide berth to the media and treated with deference any content variations that occur within a program’s normal format," Potter continued.
Watch video from Colbert's appearance at the FEC (video by HuffPost's Brad Shannon):