Stephen Colbert’s campaign finance stunt took a decidedly serious turn on Thursday when the Federal Election Commission approved the comedian’s self-referential, and very real, “super-PAC.”
The commission approved the 2012 election super-PAC, 5-1, during a quiet and quite official meeting at the FEC’s offices in D.C. Colbert was shy with quips as his adviser, Trevor Potter, former FEC chairman and a top lawyer for Sen. John McCain, volleyed replies to the commission’s questions.
One of the commission’s biggest concerns was the involvement of Viacom — Comedy Central’s parent company — and whether it qualifies for the FEC “media exemption” allowing more traditional outlets to support or push candidates. Viacom also runs into a particularly interesting problem when it not only features, but possibly assists the Colbert Super PAC with resources in creating advertisements and promotional material for the group.
“If we had just viewed this as a funny [parody] request, it would have been a lot easier and it would have been easier to give it a more open-ended, ‘sure-do-whatever-you-want-have-fun’ kind of answer,” said commissioner Ellen Weintraub. “But you’ve proposed a serious request and you say you actually want to set up a PAC and raise and save money. Of course, what we tell you, will apply to other folks as well.”
Several members of the commission spoke of the “blurring line” between corporations that may also qualify as media outlets, particularly in the “aftermath” of last years Citizens United Supreme Court decision. Following his somber appearance before the commission, Colbert returned to character and addressed the throng of mostly young fans outside.
“Some people have said, ‘Is this some kind of joke?’” yelled Colbert as the live audience eagerly engaged the comedian. “I for one don’t think participating in democracy is a joke.”
Laughter broke out, but the statement may have been more serious than it was received. Amid the happy crowd was a baby in a Colbert onesie, and the line to enter the building before the meeting was at least 50-ft long. Inside, fresh-faced, recent D.C. transplants mingled with kids who brought skateboards and baseball caps.
Dollar bills were already being waved before Colbert finished his sidewalk routine, after which he began snatching up the sudden display of green like a bean-picker. A credit card-accepting iPad emerged as arms stretched out over one another so Colbert could swipe the donation himself.
Not everyone was excitedly handing over cash-money without considering the reality of the situation. Some just didn’t care.
“It was a great experience [to be one of the first contributors of the PAC], I just wanted to enjoy the craziness of it all,” said Kevin Harris, who had $50 digitally removed from his bank account. And why? “If there’s one person I want to give 50 bucks to do something stupid, it’d be that guy.”