Stephen Colbert and How He Explained Campaign Finance

“What is a super PAC and how does it affect campaign finance?” If you know the answer to this question—super political action committees are organizations that can accrue unlimited funding from individuals, unions, and corporations due to the spirit of the First Amendment, as given by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizen’s United v. Federal Election Commission and the Federal Court of Appeals’ ruling in Speechnow v. FEC in January of 2010 (duh!)—kudos to you.  If, however, you find that the spirit of answer is lost in a cloud of ambiguous implications, (and you most certainly aren’t alone in this feeling), you needn’t worry.  Thanks to Steven Colbert, you can, quite literally, laugh off your lack of understanding.

Since March 30th of last year, Colbert has, through the satirical formation and management of his own super PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, largely illuminated the process through which these unintelligible organizations grow to prominence in the political process and exposed the odd disparity in rules that govern spending for candidates and super PACs   With the assistance of his lawyer, former FEC chairman Trevor Potter, Colbert has used his show to explicitly address some of the most pertinent issues relating to super PACs and campaign finance, including ones such as why they exist at all (one can only donate a limited sum directly to a candidate), what limitations they have regarding their received donations (none), what requirements exist to create one, what they can do in attack ads, and, most recently—when Jon Stewart took over Colbert’s super PAC after Colbert announced his bid to run for the Presidency of the United States of South Carolina—what degree of coordination is permitted between candidates and super PACs.  In doing so, Colbert has provided an invaluable education to a whole host of uninformed voters—at the very least, his 3,015,424 Twitter followers are now well familiarized with his super PAC—and has, as he contended he would at the start of this ordeal, thus made Colbert Nation players in the 2012 campaign.

In many ways, Colbert’s crusade has acted as the idealized manifestation of new media that Benkler spoke to in the Political Economy of Property and Commons.  As his segments on super PACs are all available on Hulu, comedycentral.com, and whatever other sites have since shared them, and as his rally to “Raise Cain” was covered a plethora of noteworthy “commercial news outlets”—the Huffington Post, the Washington Post, the LA Times, ABC News, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, and CBS News to name a few—the democratizing effect of this movement (knowledge is power, after all) and its efforts toward mobilizing an “inert polity” are quite tangible.  And while it’s worth mentioning that Colbert’s celebrity platform does undoubtedly offer him a distinct advantage with regard to the dissemination of his message, it is also worth pointing out that, as Professor Farrar has noted, the medium—satire—can be a powerful one.

Particularly, as is crucial, to identify BS.

Here is a Colbert-Stewart gem that has since aired.

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Colbert Super PAC – Not Coordinating with Stephen Colbert
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About David

David Helene is a senior economics major from Brooklyn, New York. He recently just completed an internship at Bloomberg View.
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