Stephen Colbert last week formally asked that the Federal Election Commission issue an advisory opinion on whether he can promote his political action committee on his show. A copy of that request is now posted at the FEC website, and it offers a glimpse at what the Colbert Super PAC plans to do.
Trevor Potter, the attorney for the Colbert SuperPAC and a former chairman of the FEC, writes that the 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 SuperPAC 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,” he writes, adding that the committee will “maintain a website, on which it will discuss political events, solicit contributions and offer opinions on political matters.” And of course, it will accept “unlimited” contributions from corporations, individuals, unions and other committees — which is its satirical purpose. The PAC will not make any contributions to other political committees.
As reported earlier, the biggest issue for Colbert SuperPAC is whether any mention of it on “The Colbert Report” will be considered an in-kind contribution on the part of Viacom. Colbert’s team is asking for a press exemption, noting that in the past the FEC has given a “wide berth” to news organizations. As an example, they cited the case of J.D. Hayworth, the Phoenix radio host who challenged John McCain for the GOP Senate nomination last year.
“The Commission ultimately found that [Hayworth’s station] KFYI fell within the ‘press exemption’ because the broadcasts were ‘comparable in form to those broadcasts of the show ordinarily issued by the entity, which broadcasts maintained a ‘newstalk’ format consisting of ‘news, commentary, and editorial’ material on a variety of topics’,” Potter wrote. As such, Colbert’s segments on his PAC will “fall well within the traditional editorial framework of the show.” The “editorial” may be satire, but it’s also shedding light on campaign finance laws.
Perhaps thorniest for the FEC is whether Colbert’s plans to show some of the PAC’s ads on his show will count as an “in-kind” contribution, especially if they advocate for or against a candidate. Targeted campaigns may not think it so funny. Adding another wrinkle is that staffers of “The Colbert Report” will be enlisted to help make the spots.
Colbert naturally is willing to take the stunt as far as he can take it; He says that he plans to appear before the FEC to answer their questions.