At this point, Stephen Colbert doesn't just make better speeches than half the candidates in the Republican primary, he has more presidential campaign experience.
On Wednesday evening, the comedian ran a clip on "The Colbert Report" of Fox News's Shepard Smith informing Jon Huntsman that he was polling behind Colbert in the latter's home state of South Carolina. In a Public Policy Polling survey, which included Colbert on the strength of his showing as a write-in candidate, the comic earned a full 5% of the vote, beating out the former Utah governor, who has trailed his fellow GOP hopefuls in nearly every poll.
“Everyone in the Republican field has already had their ‘I’m not Mitt’ moment,” Colbert said after the clip finished. “It all makes so much sense – I am so not Mitt!" He paused, so viewers could take a look at Romney's face next to his own clean-shaven, square-jawed, perfectly coiffed countenance. "I’m the one with the glasses,” he clarified.
Colbert went from wonky satirist to semi-official politician last year. After the landmark Citizens United vs. the FEC ruling, which created a special kind of "super" political action committee that can accept unlimited funding without disclosing its sources to the public, he set out to found a super PAC of his own. In June, he announced that the Federal Election Commission had given him permission to form The Stephen Colbert Super PAC, a.k.a. Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.
The PAC allowed Colbert to receive unlimited donations from any group except Viacom, Comedy Central's parent company – and then to use that money to endorse whatever candidate it chose, so long as it didn't "coordinate" with that candidate. In part, the super PAC is a joke designed to point out the flaws in a political system that allows it to exist. It's had real-world effects, however – the FEC's scrutiny of Colbert's PAC set precedent, making it against FEC rules for, say, News Corp to fund Karl Rove's super PAC Crossroads GPS, since Rove is on the News Corp payroll as a Fox News contributor just as Colbert is employed by Viacom.
On Thursday evening, Colbert transferred ownership of his super PAC to Jon Stewart, who sent out an email to PAC contributors requesting that they now refer to the group as The Definitely Not Coordinating With Stephen Colbert Super PAC. ("They have already begun updating all of their letterhead with sharpie," the email assures)
This frees up Colbert to form an exploratory committee to seek the presidency, but it also means that money the PAC has been using for joke ads (and the occasional anti-Rick Perry attack ad, after Perry ran the now-infamous "Strong" spot, which appeared to blame gay servicemen for the ban on school prayer) can now actually be used to promote a Stephen Colbert presidency. It's administrated by Stewart, funded by viewers who are in on the joke, and might actually be wealthy enough to see Colbert through a primary or two, because nobody outside the PAC knows exactly how much money is in the thing.
Colbert ran for president in 2008, first as a Republican, then as a Democrat when he discovered that he would be subject to stricter FEC regs if he paid the $35,000 fee to be listed on the ballot (FEC excuses candidates who spend less than $5K from the committee rules on the grounds that they are merely "testing the waters"). The S.C. Democratic Party executive council refused to include Colbert's name on the ballot and refunded his money – a $2,500 fee – and that was the end of his campaign.
Now, as Colbert sets up his South Carolina campaign, we'll see a whole new set of regulatory minutiae aired. Can Stewart pay Colbert's $35,000 ballot fee without "coordinating" with him? Can the PAC run the entire campaign without Colbert having to lift a finger to buy more than a round of non-coordinative thank-you beer for Stewart?
Colbert has upped the ante with his super PAC, and now he and Stewart are basically daring the FEC to shut them down and, in the process, kneecap every other candidate who relies on soft money funneled through what we used to call shell companies.If Colbert and Stewart ARE found to be in violation of FEC regs and set precedent for every other campaign, they'll have won a major political victory.
If they don't…
Hell, I'd vote for him.
Full email from the Colbert Super PAC:
Dear Super PAC Super Members,
Hi there. I'm Jon. It looks like I'm running this thing now. All the details are in the press release below. Quick question: does anybody know where the key to the Super PAC bathroom is?
Jon Stewart President Pro Tem Americans For A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow
FOR REALLY IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Under New Management!
BASIC CABLE, USA – Americans For A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, an FEC registered Super PAC, today announced the addition of Jon Stewart to its executive board (along with the subtraction of Stephen Colbert).
With this change the group, which had been known colloquially as Colbert Super PAC, can now be referred to as The Definitely Not Coordinating With Stephen Colbert Super PAC. They have already begun updating all of their letterhead with sharpie.
"I am excited to take the reins of this completely independent organization, and begin to air ads in South Carolina," said New President and Noncommunication Director Jon Stewart. "But I want to be clear: Stephen and I have in no way have worked out a series of morse-code blinks to convey information with each other on our respective shows."
Colbert is currently exploring a run for President of the United States of South Carolina. Because of this, he cannot be associated with any Super PACs, although he has asked Americans For A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow to forward any periodicals of an "adult nature." *
Americans A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow is an independent, expenditure-only committee founded by Stephen Colbert in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, then handed down to Jon Stewart like a pair of old dungarees.
For Press Inquiries Contact:
Communications Director, Definitely Not Coordinating With Stephen Colbert Super PAC
* Including the periodical "Adult Nature".
Paid for by Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow
Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.