Stephen Colbert’s is spoofing the state of campaign finance laws in his effort to launch a fully functioning SuperPAC, but two campaign finance reform organizations say that it actually could make matters worse.
The Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, in filings with the FEC today, are opposing an effort by Colbert to get clearance from the Federal Election Commission to promote his new political action committee on his show without Viacom having to report it as an in-kind contribution.
“Although we recognize that Mr. Colbert submitted his advisory opinion in the spirit of political comedy, an opinion by the FEC permitting all that Mr. Colbert requests would have a sweeping and damaging impact on disclosure laws and the public’s right to know about campaign finance activities,” said Paul S. Ryan, FEC program director of the Legal Center.
Colbert is asking that Viacom, which produces “The Colbert Report,” be permitted to pay for a variety of his expenses for the PAC without having to disclose them. He is seeking a “press exemption” that allows news organizations leeway given their First Amendment protections.
But the two orgs fear that such figures as Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich, all of whom have been or currently are paid Fox commentators, would be able to collect undisclosed contributions for their PACs from their employer, News Corp., without having to disclose.
“Many television show hosts who are serious politicians have PACs that could reap great financial benefit from the expansion of the scope of ‘press exemption’ to cover the costs of independent expenditure ads for their federal PACs and the payment of such PACs’ administrative expenses,” Ryan said.
Colbert said in his filing with the FEC that Viacom would be paying some costs of producing ads for the Colbert Super PAC as well as administrative costs. The two campaign finance orgs say that such activities, however, are not “legitimate press functions.” as is required by the FEC.
The orgs’ full filings are here.
Colbert’s SuperPAC plans to buy time on other networks to run ads during the election season, including spots that are for or against a candidate. On May 13, Colbert filed his request for an advisory opinion; the FEC has 60 days to respond.