Thursday, June 30, 2011

Colbert's Joke Is On Us, Apparently

Campaign finance reform advocates are worried that Stephen Colbert's SuperPAC shtick may open the door to some real abuses by the corporate-owned press depending on how the FEC rules.

For its part, the commission has been treating Colbert's request like any other. It's created some quirky moments, like when Colbert had to assure the commission that the cash he collected outside their office was "received by Mr. Colbert personally as payment for shaking his hand" and wasn't going to his yet-to-be-formed "super PAC."

Ultimately, if they follow the suggestions of their staff, the FEC seems set to let the Colbert Super PAC go forward one way or another. The commission will consider one of three draft opinions authored by their staff, all of which appear to let Colbert's parent company Viacom pay for the Colbert Super PAC's expenditures without having to publicly report their donations.

That's a move that has campaign finance reformers worried. Public Citizen wrote a letter to the FEC on Wednesday calling on the commission to reject the request.

"This would carve out a gaping loophole in campaign finance laws, allowing any company involved in media to foot, in secret and without limit, the electioneering expenses of political committees," Public Citizen's government affairs lobbyist Craig Holman said in a statement.

Holman warned that if the FEC granted Colbert's request, "the next request will be for media companies to directly finance unlimited candidate campaigns under the press exemption - an abuse that is already being advocated in some quarters."

Now, nobody does satire like Colbert.  The whole point of satire is to play the absurd straight and let the unintentional humor shine through.  And I honestly think Public Citizen is overreacting.  Colbert is clearly drawing attention to corporations and their control over media influence and elections, which seems to be the entire point of the exercise.   Yes, if media corporations are allowed to use the press exemption to get around campaign finance laws, it would be a disaster (what campaign finance laws we have left, anyway.)  But there do seem to be some potentially ugly ramifications here if the FEC approved Colbert's PAC as is.

I personally think the FEC understands this and will not approve Colbert's request for precisely that reason.  The press exemption is pretty ludicrous, and needs to be examined.  Colbert I believe is using this farce to force the FEC to erect some strict barriers on using the press exemption and spell them out in the campaign finance rules.  The whole point is for Colbert to play all this out by drawing attention to just how ludicrous it all is on its face.  He does it daily.

At least, I hope that this is where all this is going.  If the FEC says "Hey sure, press exemption, whatever, go for it media conglomerates!" then the joke's truly on us.

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